The right-wing media pundits-can shove off. I, Daniel Blake is me and countless others
Saturday 29th October 2016
The Toby Youngs and Camilla Longs of the world have no idea what life is like for the poor in Britain, writes BERNADETTE HORTON
THE right-wing media have decided to critique Ken Loach’s iconic film of our times, I, Daniel Blake, in a manner which can be expected — ignore the acting, ignore the characters, ignore the directing. In fact ignore anything a normal film critic would include in their review.
As I read through the reviews, I found myself reading about a mythical Britain only inhabited by middle-class right-wing journalists.
Loach got the full treatment by Camilla Long in the [Rupert Murdoch-owned] Sunday Times, who described his films as “tedious” and Toby Young in the Mail, who says the film “romanticises benefits Britain.”
To the middle-class journalists who are positively in denial about the current Tory-decimated, DWP benefits system operating in Britain in 2016 I say this: critique the film, but how dare you critique a system you have not researched or have no personal everyday knowledge of.
For the Camillas and Tobys of this world, the Britain they know consists of after-work cocktails, adventure weekending and a cosy Sunday roast lunch and all the trimmings, followed by the Antiques Roadshow and Songs of Praise.
Please get this — you have no idea and no right to deny the plight of benefits claimants who suffer much like the film character Daniel Blake who has a heart attack at 59 and has to navigate a cruel and heartless system in order to live.
I am a carer to an autistic son. I may not be the fictional Daniel Blake, but I am the very real Bernadette Horton.
I had to navigate the benefits system last year when the DWP said that my 16-year-old son was now an adult under the benefits system and needed to apply for personal independence payment (PIP) under adult regulations, even though he was and still is at school.
I wish Camilla Long at the Times could have sat with me as I telephoned to request the forms, received a letter giving me just a three-week deadline to fill in comprehensively a 27 pages or so questionnaire, submit it by recorded delivery (it is well documented how the DWP loses forms), then wait for an appointment at my home for a healthcare professional to assess my son.
All the time, all you can think about is: “If I don’t fill the form in correctly with the right information in depth the next five or so years will mean my son will not receive the correct amount of benefit and the support he needs.”
Making sure I used the correct buzzwords, including all the vital information, ensuring the healthcare professional had all the information they needed and not being intimidated at the home assessment were all I could think about as my son was depending on me because he would never have been able to navigate the system without me.
But the journalists who reviewed the system and not the film they were supposed to critique were flabbergasted that Loach had the audacity to make his characters in the film so very real.
People like Daniel Blake and the single parent also in the film, Katie, exist and we are legion.
Young in the Mail was incredulous at the film’s storyline, where Blake has a heart attack and his employment and support allowance application is declined.
Get over it, Toby. This is a daily occurrence. Even people with terminal cancer are being turned down for benefits under the current Tory system too.
Katie is moved from London to Newcastle as the social cleansing of the capital takes place. She visits a foodbank and turns to prostitution to provide for her children. Young can’t believe it, but it is happening and is happening now.
Foodbanks are feeding 1.5 million people. My son co-ordinated two high schools’ collections of food for our local foodbanks. My husband delivered the donations to the foodbanks. I was shown round the warehouse where the food is stored and spoke to volunteers.
I have met the people who are issued with foodbank vouchers after being denied access to benefits and, what’s more, many of those I have spoken to have been in work.
Work doesn’t pay any more for those on zero-hours contracts and low wages. People are making decisions to either pay bills or heat their homes or eat. And sometimes there isn’t any money left to feed your family, so the only option is a foodbank visit.
Has Young witnessed the shame and dejection of working people having to resort to a foodbank to eat? I think not. Come to my neck of the woods and I will show you that the people who end up at foodbanks are not the people so stereotyped by Young and Long at their right-wing papers.
One of the things that had me shaking my head with a wry smile in Young’s so-called review was his insistence that Loach had got the characters all wrong, that Loach “romanticises” benefit claimants.
Young goes on to protest that Blake doesn’t drink, smoke or gamble, which is obviously the stereotyped benefit claimant so beloved of the right-wing media.
I laughed out loud when he said Katie was a “far cry from White Dee” on the poverty porn programme Benefits Street, who is held up as being representative of all benefit claimants.
No, Mr Young.
Benefit claimants are all kinds of people. They may listen to classical music, aspire to go to university, and even on £62.10 a week as a carer like myself, may well enjoy writing an article which is published in a national newspaper.
To Long, who described the film as a “povvo safari for middle-class do-gooders,” I say do me a favour love and stick to critiquing what you know in your own middle-class world. You are a poverty denier, as is Young and that other Daily Mail mouthpiece, Katie Hopkins.
No amount of words I could possibly write could convince otherwise these middle-class people who think everyone is just like them.
But to those who will view the film at cinemas and at gatherings of members from Unite Community and People’s Assemblies, the characters in I, Daniel Blake are telling the real-life story of the way millions of people are having to live their lives when they fall on hard times in Tory Britain.
And before you denounce me, Ms Long and Mr Young, for having the balls to take your so-called film critiques head on, Daniel Blake represents me and the ordinary decent working-class people Loach makes films about.
Blake’s story is our real-life story too, played out daily in our cities, towns and rural areas, lives far removed from yours, but lives that exist, however much you protest in your right-wing papers and your middle-class enclaves.
Thanks to Loach, this powerful film for once tells the world what is actually occurring in Tory Britain, not what you and your millionaire-controlled media want people to think and hear.
I, Daniel Blake is me and countless others. That certainly cannot be denied.
Bernadette Horton is a grassroots activist and member of Unite Community.