Last night (Monday 17 October 2016) saw the pre-screening of recent Palme D’Or winning film, “I, Daniel Blake” by award winning director Ken Loach. Shown at Movie House, Dublin Road, local charity Advice NI celebrated its 21st birthday with the preview in association with Belfast Film Festival.
Following the experience of one ordinary man, we watch carpenter Daniel Blake fall victim to the benefits system after suffering from a heart attack and being forced to leave his job.
Critics of Ken Loach will undoubtedly call it the work of a bleeding-heart liberal who has dedicated his career to evoking sympathy and outrage for the working class, the downtrodden and the oppressed.
There is certainly a sense of the familiar when we see Daniel Blake’s attempts to do every thing right, only to be victimized and broken down by the system nonetheless. Loach fans may remember similar representations of martyrdom from “The Wind That Shakes The Barley” and “It’s a Free World”.
Even so, this does not detract from the important, underlying message of “I, Daniel Blake”. Loach succeeds in bringing to light the welfare reform and austerity issues that are happening right now and on our doorstep.
The suggestion that the benefits system operates in a way that deliberately persecutes and humiliates the individual captures the audience from the beginning, with scenes that are gripping, authentic and, quite frankly, uncomfortable.
David befriends Katie, a single mother of two on Job Seeker’s Allowance who is struggling to feed and clothe her children. Her desperate attempts to find work lead her down dark paths – namely a traumatic trip to a local food bank, theft, and ultimately, prostitution.
Katie and Daniel’s friendship may seem an unlikely one, but it is both heart warming and genuine. Loach manages to provide an unapologetic social commentary alongside realistic, engaging relationships that resonate with the audience.
Daniel is not a “scrounger”, and Loach wants to make that clear. This is the first time in his life that he has requested help from the State and all of a sudden he is viewed with disdain and mistrust. The fact is that our benefits system holds the fate of countless lives in their hands, and more and more people are finding themselves rapidly thrown into poverty in a country that continually boasts of its “progressiveness”.
Needless to say there was not a dry eye in the house. The final scene concludes with a poignant truth: people in receipt of benefits are not statistics. They are not National Insurance numbers, nor are they deserving of any less respect than working people.
We all know that there are those who abuse the system, yet this takes away from the more pressing issue of the system’s failure to assist those in need. DWP statistics show that 2,380 people died between 2011 and 2014 shortly after being declared fit for work.
Advice NI have dealt with these issues and the austerity agenda’s impact on ordinary people for the last 21 years. The charity was keen to host the screening of this award winning film, and there is no better director than Ken Loach when it comes to exposing the reality of poverty and hardship in the UK.
All profits from last night’s screening are being donated to the SOS Bus NI. You can view an updated UK Welfare Reform deaths here blacktrianglecampaign.org/2014 and check out www.adviceni.net for more information.