I’m not a film buff or someone able to adequately review a movie. In fact, I go to the cinema so rarely that the film I want to talk about is available on home video already, and I just watched it for the first time.
I, Daniel Blake is critically acclaimed, award winning and thought, by many, to be this generation’s Cathy Come Home. Directed by the same man who shot that amazing film in 1966, Ken Loach, it tells the story of Daniel Blake, or Dan, a joiner by trade who is off work long term due to a major heart attack. It follows his increasing desperation in his struggle to be heard by a welfare system more intent on getting him off the books than actually allowing him to live.
He befriends a young single mother, Katie, who has just moved up to Newcastle from London with her two children. The reason for the move is that it was the closest place available for her to live. She also struggles with the DWP’s desire to sanction rather than support.
We see the anger at an inhumane system, railing against zero hour contracts, people marginalised and having their voices ignored, and the lengths they are driven to in order to just have the basics.
But we also see the humanity. The love of people, neighbours, communities willing to help as best they can as lives fall apart. Dan’s neighbour, a young man named China, sincerely telling him to ask for “anything”, whist he himself is driven to sell trainers out of the back of a car to supplement his earnings from a zero hour contract in a warehouse.
There is one scene in particular, set in a food bank, where all of this, the desperation and the humanity, are starkly revealed in a way which will surely leave even the most detached viewer in tears. It, like the whole film, is brilliantly and realistically shot and acted in a way which highlights how these things are happening to real people in this country right now.
Ken Loach is an unashamed Socialist. Yes, of course he has a political agenda behind this film, and that is an argument used by many on the right to talk it down and denounce it. However, it has no more of a political agenda than the stories you see every day in the tabloid papers, or hear about on talk radio shows, or watch every evening for three hours a night on Five (prop. Richard Desmond – also owner of the Star and Express papers, two of the tabloid who spend the most time demonising benefits claimants). All Loach is doing is allowing us to see through these stories (all of which, admittedly, at least have truth behind them) and to see the reality which so many more people face when dealing with life without work and on welfare.
The tabloid stories of excess and “scrounging” have built up a negative public perception of welfare claimants so successfully that it has allowed the Tories, originally in coalition with the Lib Dems, to focus attention on getting people off welfare regardless of the human cost. This film shows that human cost in all its ugliness, but also shows the basic decency of people; neighbours, strangers, food bank volunteers and even one particular staff member at the benefits office.
This is one of the most moving and most important films I have ever seen. I implore you to watch it as well, especially if your view of welfare has been shaped by the Daily Mail and company. It affected me so much that once I finished it I tried to tell my wife she needed to watch it as well, but found that I couldn’t open my mouth without crying.
At the end of the film we hear Dan’s words which sum up the situation so many find themselves in. They also sum up the true importance of this film and a rethink of how we view, talk about and deal with the least fortunate people in one of the planet’s richest countries,
“I am not a client, a customer, nor a service user. I am not a shirker, a scrounger, a beggar nor a thief.
I am not a national insurance number, nor a blip on a screen. I paid my dues, never a penny short, and was proud to do so.
I don’t tug the forelock but look my neighbour in the eye. I don’t accept or seek charity.
My name is Daniel Blake, I am a man, not a dog. As such I demand my rights. I demand you treat me with respect.
I, Daniel Blake, am a citizen, nothing more, nothing less. Thank you.”