Worth a look: I, Daniel Blake

Veteran filmmaker Ken Loach’s latest movie I, Daniel Blake is a powerful story highlighting the injustices that people face on a daily basis in austerity-era Britain.

Worth a look2This hard-hitting movie tells the story of Daniel Blake, a joiner, who is unable to work after suffering a heart attack. The film shows the way that the combination of austerity policies, privatisation and government underfunding are hurting the disadvantaged in society.

The protagonist in the film, Daniel Blake, has been told by his doctors that he is unfit to work. Yet the Department of Work and Pensions requires Daniel to be assessed by a “Healthcare professional” who appears to have no medical qualifications. 

This “professional” is employed by a private US company contracted to this department. Based on the Healthcare professional’s dubious decision, Daniel is denied a sickness benefit despite his doctors saying he isn’t ready to work. 

While waiting in the Work and Pensions office, Daniel meets a young woman who has been moved to Newcastle from London, away from her family and support structures. She and her kids turn up late to her appointment due to not knowing the city and accidentally taking a wrong bus. In spite of her obvious need, because the woman is late, she is turned away by the department’s staff and told she’ll need to make another appointment. 

The movie is heavy-going and demonstrates the way welfare systems can grind people down through dehumanising bureaucracy and processes designed to reduce costs rather than to help people. Loach successfully uses dark humour to illustrate this point. 

At the start, when being asked a number of health questions unrelated to his heart condition, Daniel responds that he has already filled out the 52-page form. When questioned about his bowel movements Daniel replies “my arse works a treat”, but suggests if he keeps being asked these questions this may change. 

It would be easy for this film to vilify public servants employed by the Department of Work and Pensions, but the film is more nuanced than that and shows the difficulties of being human within the system. For example, one of the main characters is an employee of the department who goes out of her way to help Daniel. 

After being told the forms he needs to fill out are online, Daniel explains that he is “no good with computers” and an employee makes an effort to help him complete the forms. This employee is soon after called into the office by her manager and is told it is inappropriate to help clients find forms online, even if they can’t find the forms themselves. 

This movie has some heart-breaking moments that illustrate how the system breaks people. In one scene, the mother who Daniel met in the Work and Pensions office is shown in a foodbank. When no one is looking she opens a tin of fruit and starts eating from it. When discovered, she is embarrassed and starts crying and says, “I was just so hungry”. 

Towards the end of the film, Daniel gets arrested for tagging on the wall of the Department of Work and Pensions. He spray-paints messages criticising the way the department is run, including the annoying music on the phone when waiting over an hour to speak to someone. This act attracts a crowd of people who start cheering him on before he is taken away by police. 

I, Daniel Blake is a must-see. It tells the important story of what is happening in our communities without being preachy. The small acts of resistance by Daniel during the film are heart-warming and remind us that no matter how tough things get, we should never give up.

By Nick Kelly