I, Daniel Blake, film review

This video from Britain says about itself:


Hayley Squires knows all too well the poverty she portrayed in the Ken Loach film I, Daniel Blake, and reveals that she even starved herself for four days so she would understand exactly how her character felt.

On 5 December 2016, I went to see the film I, Daniel Blake, by British director Ken Loach.

The film is about the welfare benefits system in Britain, as ‘reformed’ by the Conservative government. The beginning of the film introduces Daniel Blake, the title character. An elderly carpenter, whose wife, whom he loved much, has just died. That means there is now a ‘spare’ room in his flat; making him liable for the Conservative government’s hated bedroom tax. He had a heart attack. His doctor has decided that he should not work because of his heart condition.

As the film begins, Blake is interrogated by an employee of a US American corporation, which aims at making maximum profits from robbing disabled people from their rights to benefits. The British government has outsourced disabled people’s benefits issues to such corporations. The employee, who has no medical qualifications, asks Daniel Blake stupid questions, like whether he is healthy enough to put a hat on his head. Yes, says Daniel. But why don’t you ask about my heart? The employee decides that Blake is supposedly ‘fit for work‘ and that his sick pay is stopped.

Blake then goes to the office of the DWP, the government’s Department of Work and Pensions. There, he hears that he can appeal the stopping of his sick pay, but that it is very complex and may take very long. In order to not die of hunger, he also has to register as a ‘fit for work‘ ‘jobseeker’. That registration is also very complex. He later learns that the aim of making the DWP rules so Kafka-like is to exclude as many people as possible from hope of ever receiving their rights to benefits; potentially driving them to homelessness, crime, suicide, prostitution (considered by the Dutch government as a job for which jobless women should apply if they don’t want to lose unemployment benefits), etc.

Daniel Blake knows everything about carpentry, but nothing about computers. And the Internet is the only way that appealing the disabled benefit decision and registering as ‘jobseeker’ are possible. For him, that is impossible on a computer.

One worker at the DWP office, Ann (a role by Kate Rutter) has still humanity left in her and helps Daniel with filling in forms on the computer. Ann’s boss sees that and immediately threatens her for acting against the Kafkaesque DWP rules.

The film character Ann is inspired by real life critical DWP workers who provided Loach with information. Loach thanks these workers in the credits at the end of the film, respecting their anonymity to prevent them from being punished by bosses.

At the DWP office, Daniel meets single mother Katie (a role by Hayley Squires) and her two children. The bureaucracy has just punished Katie for arriving too late at the office because her bus did not arrive on schedule.

For days on end, Katie spends the very little money she has on food for her children. She pretends to have eaten already, but in reality goes hungry.

Daniel helps Katie. Together, they go to the food bank. The food bank people are friendly, but there is an endless queue of hungry ones. When it is Katie’s turn at last, she collapses from hunger. Classmates of Katie’s daughter hear what happened at the food bank, and bully the little girl about her mother.

Desperate about her children, Katie first steals a small item at a shop. Then, she accepts an offer by a pimp to work in prostitution.

Meanwhile, the DWP bureaucracy has ordered Daniel that he should spend at least 35 hours a week asking employers if they have a job for him. The bureaucracy also sends him to a mandatory CV course. The course teacher, full of New Age-ish pseudo-scientific rhetoric, points out, correctly, that most bosses hardly look at CVs of people applying for jobs. And that for most vacancies, the overwhelming majority of people applying won’t get the job. So, he advises the unemployed people at the course to make their CVs ‘stand out’ (if all unemployed people would follow that advice, then not one person more would succeed in getting a job).

Daniel goes to business after business, asking whether there are vacancies. No, there are not, the overwhelming majority of employers say. Finally, one boss offers Daniel a job. I can’t accept it, Daniel replies. My doctor says I should not work because of my heart attack. But I have to apply for jobs because else my ‘jobseeker’s allowance’ would stop and I would not have any money. The boss reacts angrily. Believing in prejudices against people on benefits, he says that Daniel is lazy, preferring benefits to work. Daniel, he says, has wasted the boss’ time. Indeed, British government policies, sending sick people on wild goose chases’ for non-existent jobs, waste employers’ time; and the time of unemployed people and of DWP staff as well.

Then, Daniel is summoned to the DWP office. A jobsworth senior bureaucrat arrogantly tells him he has not done enough at applying for jobs. Daniel should have brought documents and photos from all businesses where he had applied. The bureaucrat sanctions Daniel.

Then, Daniel spray paints on the wall of the DWP office that ‘I, Daniel Blake’ protest against the inhuman treatment by the bureaucracy. A crowd gathers around him, applauding that courageous move. Police come and arrest him.

Not long after that, Daniel dies. Killed by the British government, as Katie says in her speech at his funeral.

See also here.

A conversation with I, Daniel Blake screenwriter Paul Laverty about the indignities of the welfare system in an age of austerity: here.

PRIVATE companies are acting as a barrier between GPs and the NHS, putting patients’ lives at risk. Millions of pounds are being spent on privately-run schemes to ‘screen’ and prevent patients from being referred by GPs to specialist services, it emerged yesterday. Doctors warn that the danger is that diagnoses will be delayed or missed or dismissed with devastating consequences for the patient: here.


36 thoughts on “I, Daniel Blake, film review

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  7. Wednesday 15th February 2017

    posted by Morning Star in Features

    KESTRA LAURENT reports on the fundraising initiative inspired by a scene in I, Daniel Blake providing sanitary products to the women affected by the Tory governments brutal cuts

    Period Drama is a series of charity events focused on raising money to provide women in strained financial situations with sanitary items, aiming to specialise in reusable products, such as Menstrual Cups and Washable Pads.

    It all got started after seeing Ken Loach’s latest film I, Daniel Blake. My friend Valentina Catto and I came out fairly shell shocked, like most people.

    We figured a drink was definitely needed and went over the film together as we’d both spent a substantial amount of time watching it through leaky eyes; the cinema was a little chorus of quiet snuffles.

    It can be quite hard not to feel defeated after a film like that. But also the flip side is that empathy and anger came out to give us the kick that’s necessary to do something.

    What got to us most was Hayley Squires’ character Katie, a single mother of two, having to resort to stealing tampons. It was a humiliating moment for the character and we felt that absolutely no-one should ever have to be in a situation like that.

    Getting products to shelters and foodbanks was clearly the aim but also with our little push of trying to get more reusable items out there, such as menstrual cups and washable pads — the main reason for this being that a menstrual cup will last for ten years on average.

    A monthly reliance on foodbanks or shelter having sanitary products seems like a stretch, especially with this cut-heavy government. Having to go through the monthly thought process of “should I feed myself or should I not bleed on myself” is outrageous.

    Knowing these won’t work for every situation, of course, maintenance of the items just isn’t always going to be possible but if we can get a few in for each donation drop, that’d be thrilling. So if any women are up for it, hopefully they’ll get the chance to try them at some point.

    That’s the premise we’ve gone on. The Period Drama wasn’t going to be an actual charity, just possibly an event to get products to these women.

    December was our first fundraiser, a Christmas market. It was so random and DIY, selling our own clothes, an aquarium, socks shaped as cupcakes, prints from artists, making up weird food price deals and, most bizarrely of all, it was held in a bar of the Aldwych Theatre in the West End.

    Perplexingly we managed to raise over £600, plus a hefty-sized cardboard box of pure donations. All of the money we raised was spent on sanitary items, including 22 menstrual cups and 50 reusable panty liners. We then split these equally between Hackney Food Bank and The Marylebone Project.

    The Period Drama is a sapling at the moment but I really do hope it continues to grow, I think collaborations are key.

    There’s a couple of really brilliant organisations getting involved in the “period poverty” movement that have popped up over the last few years. Laura Coryton’s tampon tax campaign, Kate Milner’s A Bag For Katie and, more recently, The Homeless Period initiative are all gaining some serious momentum.

    I’m also a big fan of the hilariously named Crack and Cider initiative. Started by Scarlett Montanaro and Charlotte Cramer, Crack and Cider is an online shop where you can buy essential sanitary projects for homeless women, which the owners then distribute in London and San Francisco.

    It really feels like there’s a bit of a collective consciousness going on. Getting rid of some of the stigma involved with periods with a punky attitude approach is what we’re really down with.

    Recently, we’ve started putting donation boxes together to go in the ladies’ toilets at pubs and music venues. The idea being that donations aren’t cash but the odd tampon or pad you may have floating around in your bag. They will be regularly emptied and go directly to a local shelter or foodbank. A few places are on board for it, a couple being the Old Ship Inn in Hackney and The Lounge in Archway. Hopefully more will catch on.

    This month we’re collaborating with Hooray Cabaret: Bleeding Love, an irreverent comedy show run by Victoria Kember and Verity Lewis, who have been putting on ridiculously fun Hooray shows since 2013. It’s on tomorrow at Moth Club in Hackney Central. We have a special reduced price ticket called “If it bleeds, It leads” which will get you in for £8, providing you bring along a pack of tampons or panty liners to donate to The Period Drama. This month’s donations will be going to Hackney Food Bank.

    You can find The Period Drama on Facebook: http://facebook.com/theperioddrama/. Tickets for Hooray Cabaret: Bleeding Love is available via http://designmynight.com.



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