I, Daniel Blake, the new Ken Loach movie, is the first time that the truth of the benefits system has been scrutinised closely in film. No wonder it’s been met by reviews suggesting the narrative is too heavy-handed. As a carer to my disabled child, let me tell you straight: it is not. However hard it is for you to watch, this is the truth.
The media perpetuates the myth of the “benefit scrounger” with TV shows such as Benefits Street. The reality is that the benefits system is skewed against people like my learning disabled daughter, for whom I had to fight to get a home and crucial support payments in order for her to live her life.
To be disabled or a carer, to be ill, elderly, frail or vulnerable in this country means that you live in fear. Anyone with a disabled child lives in for them anyway – but if you need support from the state, that fear becomes realized. We are witnessing an obscene destruction of lives and livelihoods, futures and communities, as people turn against each other and point the finger of blame. When the system and society combine to disenfranchise you, what hope do you have?
Loach’s brave film deals with the inconvenient truth that we are all of us just one illness or accident away from crisis, just like his two leading characters, Daniel and Katie. Daniel, who has worked all of his life, has a heart attack; Katie is shunted from London to Newcastle in the search for the social housing to which she is entitled.
The most ridiculous reasons people had their benefits sanctioned
The most ridiculous reasons people had their benefits sanctioned
"One case where the claimant’s wife went into premature labour and had to go to hospital. This caused the claimant to miss an appointment. No leeway given"
"It’s Christmas Day and you don’t fill in your job search evidence form to show that you’ve looked for all the new jobs that are advertised on Christmas Day. You are sanctioned. Merry Christmas"
"You apply for three jobs one week and three jobs the following Sunday and Monday. Because the job centre week starts on a Tuesday it treats this as applying for six jobs in one week and none the following week. You are sanctioned for 13 weeks for failing to apply for three jobs each week"
"A London man missed his Jobcentre appointments for two weeks because he was in hospital after being hit by a car. He was sanctioned"
2011 Getty Images
"You’ve been unemployed for seven months and are forced onto a workfare scheme in a shop miles away, but can’t afford to travel. You offer to work in a nearer branch but are refused and get sanctioned for not attending your placement"
2013 Getty Images
"You are a mum of two, and are five minutes late for your job centre appointment. You show the advisor the clock on your phone, which is running late. You are sanctioned for a month"
"A man with heart problems who was on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) had a heart attack during a work capability assessment. He was then sanctioned for failing to complete the assessment"
Copyright (c) 2015 Rex Features. No use without permission.
"A man who had gotten a job that was scheduled to begin in two weeks’ time was sanctioned for not looking for work as he waited for the role to start"
"Army veteran Stephen Taylor, 60, whose Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) was stopped after he sold poppies in memory of fallen soldiers"
2014 Getty Images
"A man had to miss his regular appointment at the job centre to attend his father’s funeral. He was sanctioned even though he told DWP staff in advance"
2014 Getty Images
"Ceri Padley, 26, had her benefits sanctioned after she missed an appointment at the jobcentre - because she was at a job interview"
Jason Doiy Photography
"A man got sanctioned for missing his slot to sign on - as he was attending a work programme interview. He was then sanctioned as he could not afford to travel for his job search"
2012 Getty Images
"Mother-of-three Angie Godwin, 27, said her benefits were sanctioned after she applied for a role job centre staff said was beyond her"
"Sofya Harrison was sanctioned for attending a job interview and moving her signing-on to another day"
"Michael, 54, had his benefits sanctioned for four months for failing to undertake a week’s work experience at a charity shop. The charity shop had told him they didn’t want him there"
"Terry Eaton, 58, was sanctioned because he didn’t have the bus fare he needed to attend an appointment with the job centre"
The house we found for my daughter, Emily, was from stock “held back for other purposes”, meaning it had been allocated without being publicised. For that reason alone, we were expected to travel further than an hour away for a property which was perfect for her disability and very close to home.I fought for her and won but what if I hadn't fought as hard for Emily? What if I hadn't discovered the property she was eventually granted, by accident? What would have happened then? Would my daughter have been sent away from me to Newcastle? Or to a psychiatric hospital where many people with Emily's needs end up.
While fighting with my local council to for the social housing Emily desperately needed, I was also navigating the hell that is the benefits system – just like Loach’s characters.
The intrusive Employment Support Allowance forms, which run to many pages, ask meaningless questions such as “can you raise to arm as if to put a pen in your top pocket” These questions generate a points scoring system; like the welfare equivalent of a supermarket loyalty card, the bonus claimants receive is social security or starvation.
It’s a system that deliberately dehumanises and degrades. My daughter Emily can raise her arms but she will never be able to live independently, manage her own affairs or fight for her rights.
I, Daniel Blake is a film which gives voice to all those at the forefront of this system. It’s unashamedly political, and so is this piece: the truism that the personal is political is writ large when it comes to the overhaul of the welfare system.
This system is supposed to care for us at a time of greatest need. That’s why the welfare state was created, to recognize that any of us could fall victim to circumstances beyond our control. Yet the shame heaped on benefit claimants now shouts loudly in our collective faces that poverty is somehow a “lifestyle choice”. That need and illness and disability and circumstance are all something to be ashamed of.
Millions have recently been allocated by the DWP to challenge tribunals for those who request a reassessment for support payments after being refused. Although Emily is learning disabled from birth and for life, there are no guarantees that she will be allocated these urgent payments next time she is assessed. It makes a nonsense of “Compassionate Conservatism”.
Since all of this began for Emily, back in January, I haven’t had much sleep. Ever since her diagnosis at three years old I’ve feared for her future. I fear for the time when I’m not around to fight for her. As private companies encroach on our welfare state they cast their cold eyes on our most vulnerable citizens, turning a human life into a bottom line.
Three years ago, a survey of GPs warned that many of their disabled patients were contemplating or actually committing, suicide. The government didn't listen then and it isn't listening still.
All of us who know and love someone who needs the safety net of social security have been left utterly hopeless by the weaponising of the benefits system – a weapon the Government deploys against its own people. I have spent most of the last few months in tears trying to get Emily what she needs and feeling hopeless and broken by the system. I've felt panicked, terrified, and angry and horrified by what is being done to hundreds of thousands like her who just want what everyone wants: a roof over their head and food on the table.
That's not an aspiration or a “lifestyle” choice, that's just survival.
A society should be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens. With I, Daniel Blake Ken Loach has turned media guns against the government generals orchestrating this war on welfare. He is reminding us all that in war, truth doesn't have to be the first casualty.Reuse content