A couple of weeks ago, I was offered two free tickets for an early morning showing of Ken’s Loach’s most recent film ‘I, Daniel Blake’. I was eager to see the film, so sacrificed my usual Saturday lie in and dragged my mum along with me. My mum, who’s suffered all her life with a long list of horrible illnesses, is (like Daniel Blake) currently in the long process of appealing against the Work Capability Assessment team’s decision to cut her disability allowance. Money that if cut, she will be forced to seek work, which under the advice of several consultants, will lead to an unnecessary, very early death. My mother wasn’t overly keen about going to see the film. I just assumed she was being closed minded. I realised later that ignorance wasn’t the issue. Quite the opposite in fact.
In these times of savage austerity cuts and living costs higher than ever before, businesses like cinemas are now struggling and often only fill half a room most days, if that. Working class people like us can no longer afford a leisurely trip to the cinema and if we do, it’s considered “splashing out”. At 10.30am on the first cold, wet Saturday morning of the autumn, that cinema at the back of an industrial estate was packed. The room was full of people young and old, many in wheelchairs and with carers. We were all there to witness the most realistic portrayal of our lives that has ever hit the big screen to date. The mood was sombre. We all knew that this wasn’t going to be a pleasant morning trip to the cinema, however I don’t think any of us could have prepared ourselves for just how real, raw and painful it truly was.
From the moment the film started, there were knowing nods, laughs, tuts, head shakes and most of all, tears throughout the cinema. I don’t think there was one person in that room who couldn’t relate to any part of the film. This really was a ground breaking piece of cinema, in that this did not just speak to us, it was us. It could have been any one of us. Any one of the hundreds of thousands of people in the UK who are forced to take these heinous, humiliating, stress inducing Work Capability Assessments, just to be told by a private non-medical company that our doctors, nurses and consultants are wrong and that we’re just as fit to work as anybody else. Any one of us who’ve lost loved ones who’s mental or physical health could not cope with the strain of seeking or returning to work. Any one of us who’ve struggled to keep a roof over our children’s heads, food on our children’s tables and clothes on our children’s backs and have or have considered doing unthinkable things just to have fulfil these basic needs. Any one of us who are at the mercy of the Job Centres, the DWP and councils, under constant threat of sanctions and evictions.
I sat in the cinema with my mum, who’s listened to me balling my eyes out down the phone time and time again when my money has been cut, when I’ve been told all I can do is go to the Citizen’s Advice Bureaux for food bank vouchers to feed my children, despite having a working partner, when I’ve slept in B&B’s and the homes of strangers with my child because the council turned me away, when I’ve spent nights in hospital, because my privately rented mould ridden home has caused life threatening asthma attacks. I sat in that cinema and I cried uncontrollably. I was so emotionally and physically overwhelmed, I wanted to sob and never stop. I cried because the woman in the film, who didn’t eat for days on end, so that her children could eat and had to do things she’d never dreamed of doing just to get by, she was me. I couldn’t have written or portrayed her character any better myself. During a particularly harrowing scene in the film, the single mum turned to Daniel and said something along the lines of “If my mum could see me, she’d be so ashamed.” Sitting next to my own mum in that moment, I just froze and let silent tears fall down my face. I couldn’t even bring myself to look at her. I know her mum wouldn’t have been ashamed. My mum wouldn’t be ashamed, but they would be heart broken. This is not the life that you dream of for your son’s or daughter’s when you have children. This is every parent’s worst nightmare.
I looked around the cinema and just about everyone in the room were crying the very same tears that I was. We weren’t crying because we were watching a sad film. We weren’t angry because we were watching injustice done to characters in a movie and we weren’t proud of Daniel Blake’s act of rebellion just because he was a likeable character. That is what is so important about this film. We cried because they were our struggles; our lives. We were angry because the injustice was ours, our loved ones’ and over a million others all over the country. We were proud and inspired by Daniel Blake’s actions, because it was a symbol, not just of rebellion, but of hope, of fight and of change.
Every now and again, a film comes out that resonates, enlightens and inspires people. I, Daniel Blake is one of them. Whether this is a film that you would usually go to see or not, I urge you to see it. See it even if it’s just for that one person you know who relies on the welfare state to exist. See it for an insight into the lives of the thousands of people you have a sneaking suspicion are “taking advantage” of the system in order to get out of working. See it to learn about why not voting or voting for the Conservatives is so detrimental to lives of over a million people in this country. See this film to see just how badly the system is working for the least privileged and most vulnerable in society. The more people who see this film and are touched and inspired by it, the more chance we have of winning the fight. The more chance we have of changing the system, together. We are all, Daniel Blake.
By The Breadline Mum
Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake Official Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahWgxw9E_h4