Monday, 23 January 2017

I, Daniel Blake

When I, Daniel Blake (Ken Loach, 2016) was released there were arguments and discussions in the press as to how accurate the film was. Iain Duncan Smith, the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, argued that it was not and Damian Green, his successor, argued in a similar way. Unfortunately it transpired that Green hadn’t seen it and described the film as ‘monstrously unfair’. Which it seems is a fair description of the Tory welfare policies that led to writing and making of the film.

The story and its scenarios was constructed by information divulged by Department for Work and Pensions employees and members of their union; the PCS. This would indicate that there are staff members are far from comfortable with the situations portrayed in this film and what they are called to do. This is evident in the film where a job adviser is told off by her manager for giving too much help to a claimant. Part of the problem would be that the DWP staffing budgets have been cut meaning that the time that they can spend with claimants would be reduced.

The story is that the eponymous hero, Daniel Blake, suffers a heart attack whilst working as a carpenter. Due to his heart condition he is told not to work by his doctor and the nurses who care for him. He should then receive Employment and Support Allowance, but he is assessed as being fit for work because he says that can put a hat on and that he could walk fifty metres. He is then cast into a bureaucratic, cold and uncaring system; which has him having to look for work and proving that he is doing so, while he should be resting and recuperating.

With the film being set in Newcastle and featuring the stories of working class people returns us to familiar territory for a Ken Loach film. He has highlighted injustices in the past and illuminated some people whose plight does not often see the light of day.

In this story Daniel befriends Katie, who has moved to Newcastle with her two young children from London after they were evicted from their accommodation. We see the struggles they go through and the choices that they are faced with. These choices, of course, are the result of circumstance and consequences. The point is made that when you have nothing, or next to nothing, then you can easily end up in situations that are far from perfect; making choices that you should not have to make.

This film shows up the human cost of cutting welfare. These cuts cannot discriminate so that they only affect so called scroungers. As depicted in the film the cuts and the system they lead to leave some people behind. Digital by default is a mantra used here as well. If for whatever reason you are not fully participating in the information age then the government may not help you and you may fall behind, or worse. If your condition, or state of health, has a temporary effect, or you’re able to perform simple tasks there apparently is no excuse for you not working, you’re fit for work and should look for work. Here this includes a major heart condition that slows and doesn’t necessarily stop you.

When I think about the cultural impact of this film and the heap of bureaucratic snares that are depicted I’m reminded of Kafka, Swift and Lewis Carroll. There is a ridiculous element to this, the state does seem to have evolved into that role of the red queen eliminating problems in a cold had heartless manner, whilst the relatively caring king seems to be ineffectual. I read an article that said that filmmakers today should be asking questions and it wasn’t necessarily their place to answer them, rather like here.

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