I Daniel Blake Film Review Poster from Film
I Daniel Blake – Poster for Film out October 21 2016

Award Winning Film could have been set in Consett

A stunningly powerful Award Winning Film is about to be released and it could have been set in Consett, the North East of England, or indeed anywhere in the United Kingdom. It could have been set in Durham, London, Glasgow, Manchester, or Swansea, such is the extent of the Tory austerity measures, that set the tone of the story, across the United Kingdom.

Winner of the famous Palme D’or at Cannes Film Festival in 2016, up there with films like Pulp Fiction, The Pianist, and even Apocalypse Now, I, Daniel Blake, is the latest offering from acclaimed social realist Ken Loach and is set in Newcastle Upon Tyne. The film tells the same tale of domestic struggle being experienced up and down the country by the poorest people in modern-day Britain.

The injustice of ‘the system’ is highlighted in this film, it’s disturbing to see how people in 2016 Britain are being treated at their most vulnerable, while asking for help.

Less than a month short of the fifty year anniversary of Loach’s television debut, Cathy Come Home, a TV drama about homelessness, it’s almost shocking to think that we are yet again experiencing the same social problems in one of the richest countries on the planet. Almost, but not quite.

If there’s a film that highlights the reality of life for the UK’s most vulnerable people, this is it.

The Director of I,Daniel Blake, Ken Loach, said the following at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year,

“First of all, we started hearing stories about what was going on. The assessments, sanctions, food banks. I went with Paul Laverty, who wrote the script, to half-a-dozen towns and cities where we kept hearing the same sort of thing.

Few people are aware of what‘s going on, and the scale of it, affecting hundreds of thousands of people, many of them feeling ashamed.”

People here are probably more aware of it happening elsewhere, for example in Greece, but not here in the UK.”

The film although fictional, tells the story of the immense hardship and injustice people are dealing with head on, after being refused welfare, while being disabled or out of work. It’s probably plain to see, for any viewer from the socioeconomic background depicted in the film, that this is an almost lightened up version of the reality many are facing.

There is a hope there, highlighted by a recent tweet from The Big Issue, that this film will help to change people’s and the government’s perspective about people in such desperate situations.

The Big Issue wrote, “HAS KEN LOACH JUST CHANGED GOVERNMENT POLICY WITH I, DANIEL BLAKE?”

The film a very simple, relevant, and current snapshot of what is really going on all across the UK, and perhaps even across Europe.

Ken Loach, Director; had this to say at a Cannes Film Festival Press Conference, earlier in 2016,

“There is a common denominator between all the european countries, so I’ll try to generalise a little bit if I may…. it’s the case throughout Europe is that we will find leaders and people who understand what is happening, but the political structures are not good at allowing them to be heard. So, I think that’s the problem.”

“We’ve got to make alliances across [Europe] France, Spain, or Greece, so that there is a real left in Europe that understands what is happening and doesn’t put the interests of big business first, rejects the EU when it sets out to privatise everything or do deals with America that are going to prioritise the interests of big business and give them separate courts to undermine our governments when they seek not to privatise, so we need a european-wide movement that will rescue people like Dan and Katie (from the film) from the situation they are in. “

In the film the working class people are being treated terribly, not only by people and places that are supposed to help the most vulnerable, but more widely by government policies, assessments, sanctions, and the cruel cost cutting tactics; brought about by recent ‘Austerity’ in the UK.

The film has shown the cycle of people being let down by welfare policies, Jobcentre bureaucracy, and benefit delays which is driving people to use food banks.

The release of I, Daniel Blake has compelled me to write this article and bring together my real life observations of the UK’s welfare system in action. Indeed, Loach’s fictional film is more light hearted than many shocking stories that are the reality of so many families across the UK.

In fact, I myself know friends and family who’ve gone through similar situations during the UK’s Austerity Period.

In particular a 19 year old girl, who had attempted suicide 5 times previously and obviously needed mental health help, was denied incapacity allowance and deemed fit for work; due to unmanageable conflicts between health appointments and the jobcentre she was sanctioned several times and was forced to wait weeks without any money to look for work, live or eat. She committed suicide in 2012.

I can’t help but feel she would be still here if the welfare system was of more help to her in her time of need.

The welfare support policies in the UK seem to have been incredibly unjust and it makes people sad, mad, and even furious; now add that to the rest of life’s troubles for the most vulnerable in society and you’ve got one hellishly dark place for any human being to be.

Global Issues Web asks, “What happens when people leave the cinema? “

Well, we hope there is change after people see this film. This could any one of us, that’s what the film is about. Unjust welfare policies that have humiliated people and influenced how the public perceive those seeking benefits. It is my hope that this film will show people how it really is for Britain’s most vulnerable people and ultimately change government policy and bring about positive welfare reform.

Film critics will continue to review this film as both a ‘socialist rant’ or, slightly more kindly, a ‘passion project’ and a work of art. They wouldn’t be entirely wrong in this approach either, but to ignore the film itself as a review of Austerity Britain and our own, albeit floundering, ability to cope with said measures, would be the gravest mistake. This film is a beacon for where we are now and to take it for just another leftist whinge would be a massive disservice to the millions affected by the reality it portrays.

There is an element of sadness that comes with the fact that these stories need to be told as fiction, packaged as art, before they will be acknowledged as a reality by those of certain classes, but if this is what it takes to get momentum for the issues facing so many, then great.

Will this film affect government policy?

Not on its own it won’t. Will it bring together the radical left and mainstream Britain to fight further government cuts? Maybe not. But this film and the story of human relationships that it portrays can be a footnote in the narrative of this country as we face an increasingly uncertain future.

I, Daniel Blake is in UK cinemas from October 21


Have any of the issues talked about in this piece or the film affected you?

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Do you or a family member have a story about the use of sanctions and their effect on your quality of life? If so, and you’re happy to talk about it (even anonymously) then get in contact with us or leave a comment below.


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