“I, Daniel Blake”, is a tale of two individual’s struggles to navigate their way through the benefits system and how this struggle impacts on their everyday lives. The character of the film’s title is Daniel Blake, a man in his late 50’s who lives in Newcastle. He’s recovering from a heart condition but has been assessed as “fit for work”, despite evidence from his doctor which states the opposite view. As his claim has been rejected, he is forced to navigate through a complicated and confusing process in order to appeal. This involves a great deal of bureaucracy and you sympathise with Daniel’s frustration as he finds this very wearing. He feels that the authorities do not understand his case and don’t treat him as an individual.
This is also the experience of a young woman he befriends at the local job centre who has been moved from London to Newcastle with her young children. The rigidity of the system is demonstrated by the fact that she is sanctioned for being a few minutes late for an appointment. The job centre staff don’t seem to have any flexibility and are unable to take into account her circumstances.
This film is not an attack on job centre staff but on the system itself. The nature of this system means that even if staff want to help, they are unable to do so. The film is a rallying cry from a veteran director who always manages to bring social issues to the fore in an engaging and thought-provoking manner. It’s also important to say that while this film deals with serious subject matter, there are lighter moments, specifically the relationships between Daniel and the young woman and her family as well as his entrepreneurial next door neighbour. One of this film’s central messages is about the power which individuals have if they come together and help each other.
I would recommend this film as I found it thought-provoking and it gave an insight into an issue which I feel is important to raise. Given that benefit claimants can be perceived in a very negative and unhelpful manner, this film highlights the human beings and their stories and seeks to go beyond stereotypical caricatures of people on benefits.
Matt Cresser Equalities Ambassador