Adam DC reviews Ken Loach’s latest film.
Ken Loach’s Palme d’Or award winning film “I Daniel Blake” exposes the reality of ‘Benefits Britain’. Written by his long time collaborator Paul Laverty, the film is a dignified and sharp polemic about the injustices that occur in our benefits system, and the solidarity and courage of the people forced to use it.
As is customary with Loach’s films it is shown from the perspective of those ordinary, yet extraordinary working class people – trapped within the system – not from that of those running it, or through the media lens of commentators, or of TV ‘reality’ shows using people’s hardship to create a false narrative about ‘scrounges’ or the ‘work-shy’.
The film centres on Daniel Blake, a 50-something unemployed Joiner who is unable to work due to a recent heart attack, and his newfound friendship with Kate, a single mother of two, rehoused in Newcastle, miles from her family and support networks in London. We follow their friendship and daily struggles against a system which characterises them as ‘claimants’, ‘clients’ and ‘customers’, but never as human beings with rights, abilities, and value in society. The pair’s friendship grows as we follow them trying to pay the bills, stay housed and afford to eat.
If you’ve tried to claim benefits in recent years, this film will sound all too familiar. The opening scene has Daniel at home whilst listening to the ubiquitous background Vivaldi soundtrack on hold to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).
It depicts with some force the dehumanising nature, frustration and anger at the inane, seemingly arbitrary treatment of people in a system created by successive governments that demands ‘claimants’ must jump through hoops and straddle hurdles just to get enough money to survive, and a vicious circle of sanctions and penalties, which make further sanctions almost inevitable.
The film deals with questions of poverty, health, homelessness and a bullying culture made all too obvious by the now common use of private security firms at job centres, used to enforce pernicious rules, and eject people from the centre, and by extension remove their meagre means of income.
But typical of all Loach’s films are the touching and sometimes amusing scenes of working class solidarity shown by ordinary people – young and old, black and white – who, in this age of underemployment, zero-hours contracts and precarious work, know all too well that at any time, due to any slight change of circumstances they too could be left out of work, or out on the streets.
It also shows the pressure put on job centre staff. One who helps Daniel to use a computer is taken aside by a manager, for helping, – “you’re setting a precedent” she is told.
The Welfare State, alongside the NHS, are the greatest achievements this country has ever made. “I Daniel Blake” demonstrates how that system is now being undermined and degraded, and being remodelled to shame and discourage, rather than being there as a helping hand in difficult times.