Daniel in the Bureaucrat’s Den: A Short Review of I, Daniel Blake

I went to see Ken Loach’s latest film, I, Daniel Blake, knowing that many people have been moved to tears by it and yes, I, too, cried.  The film contrasts the human kindness of its principal characters, Dan and Katie, with the callousness of a bureaucratic state, as exemplified by the DWP and, in particular, its Orwellian “Decision-Maker” who refuses Dan’s claim for ESA.

It is unashamedly polemical but it also funny.  Loach gets quite a few laughs, for example, out of Dan’s attempt to use a computer, something he has to do in order to apply for JSA and appeal against the ESA decision.

As many of you will know, there is a memorable scene set in a food bank, the impact of which is reinforced by the reactions of the (real I think) food bank workers who didn’t know what was going to happen because the director hadn’t told them what Katie would do. This scene is ‘real’ in more ways than one; we have certainly served people at Exeter Foodbank who have not eaten for days, and need to sit with a drink and snack before mustering the energy to walk home.  Exeter Foodbank, unlike the food bank in the film, does not take referrals directly from Job Centre Plus.  Nevertheless, some of the circumstances of Katie’s referral (as a single mum, struggling to find affordable accommodation and look for work while caring for two young children) sound all too familiar.

Incidentally, we do have feminine hygiene products available, in part thanks to the ‘Provide a Pad’ scheme run by Exeter University.  Clients have also told us on several occasions that our support has prevented them from having to resort to the desperate lengths – shoplifting – that Katie goes to in order to access basic necessities.

The film isn’t without its faults – there’s one somewhat unlikely plot contrivance – but I would recommend it wholeheartedly to EFB volunteers and supporters.   And we must hope that the film and the publicity and debate it engenders will lead to changes in the way the social security system – and society as a whole – treats some of our fellow citizens. It has already prompted a number of people to contact us to ask whether they can become volunteers.

Reviewer: Jeff Skinner