Sometimes a film comes along that offers more than social commentary, or even with the intention of raising awareness. It becomes social responsibility. The voice of the voiceless and ignored masses. It presents a civic duty to us all. Its power doesn’t arrive by inflating issues to fill the big screen but allowing the uncomfortable truths – the government would have you ignore – stand front and centre.
Ken Loach’s film, penned by Paul Laverty, shows us what people can be reduced to in modern day Britain. A working-class man that genuinely wants to work but can’t receive assistance from the state despite medical professionals insisting he doesn’t resume activity.
A single mother that only wants the best for her children but is faced with impossible choices as she sees support slip away. Surely the net of despair is closing fast when trips to the food bank aren’t a turning point, just a brief interlude to delay starvation.
She collapses, eating in an aisle, ashamed but desperate. Apologetic to those who do care for her plight and don’t need her pleas for forgiveness. All the while, an unsympathetic state turns the screw. The starvation of her soul becomes more debilitating than malnutrition.
The cold faces of benefit officers symbolic of the callous government peddling senseless rules. These only exist to ostracise the most vulnerable, placing a buffer between real world issues and the comfy 1%.
The working-class man is the title featured Daniel Blake. A far from workshy joiner who suffers a cardiac arrest. Following this, his dignity is placed under lock and key by the benefits system.
His cardiologist flatly refuses a return to work but a work capability assessment – carried out by a person so devoid of humanity and common sense, they resemble a primitive android – declares him ineligible for support allowance.
It transpires his doctor was never consulted and he can’t challenge the judgement until contacted by the appeals officer. This racks up his phone bill and even when, in person, he explains at the benefits office he isn’t computer literate, the stock response is to consult the website.
There is one helpful face there but even she is reprimanded for offering assistance instead of letting people flounder and fail.
Katie is the single mother. A woman in Newcastle after leaving London due to a housing shortage. A long way from home and alone, her first taste of “assistance” comes in the form of a week without payment due to her late arrival.
It creates a volatile scene that begs the characters involved – along with the viewer – to realise it’s just a person that needs help. Shouldn’t the rules exist to aid, not obstruct?
The Daniel and Katie dynamic shows how people pull together when faced with insurmountable odds. If it weren’t for this, the country would collapse because the powers-that-be have stopped listening. And watching. And caring.
Daniel’s neighbour, a young man that offers help when asked, provides some light relief. And in spite of the main subject matter, the spirit of good-nature and humour somehow manages to find its way out of the few available cracks of light.
Ultimately it will be viewed by those with differing political views as either observation or incitement. A warning shot or a motivational video. Those that fail to take heed of the message, are ignoring the real problems the country faces. It’s easier to look the other way: the government encourage you to do just this.
Writing this on the eve of a General Election, it seems pertinent. Right now, Daniel Blake’s problems may seem far away and unconnected to your own. As perhaps the elderly care debate, student fees or NHS funding.
But excusing one wrongdoing because it doesn’t directly affect you, gives the government carte blanche to move onto other political agendas. If you continue to allow the Daniel Blakes to grow in number, one day you will find yourself among them.
By then it will be too late to call for help or expect change.
You are Daniel Blake. They are Daniel Blake. I am Daniel Blake.