Exactly half a century after the iconic television play Cathy Come Home sparked a national conversation about homelessness, another Ken Loach production, a film which will be released in cinemas nationally on October 21, is getting people talking – this time about our convoluted, austerity-driven benefits system which has robbed so many of their dignity.
I, Daniel Blake tells the story of Daniel, a 59-year-old joiner from the North East who, although having worked his entire life, has a massive heart attack and can no longer work. He signs on to the out-of-work sickness benefit, Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), and enters the labyrinthine, bureaucratic and often heartless world of the state benefits system in an era of austerity.
Blake befriends single mother Katie, who has also fallen through the cracks. After living in a hostel in London for two years, she’s told that there’s no housing for her in the capital – a place with thousands of empty flats — and is moved hundreds of miles away up to Newcastle.
Although Blake and Katie and the other characters in the film are fictionalised, their interactions with the benefits system were meticulously researched – in fact, many of the same horror stories of people who are simply down on their luck spiralling into a bleak existence of food banks and rough sleeping are lifted straight from real life.
Food blogger Jack Monroe, who previously lived on benefits as a single mother, told the Guardian that she had been asked long ago to provide information to the film’s researchers.
When she finally saw the film recently, she said “the similarities with my life were uncanny.”
“The scene where they’re using tea lights and a flower pot to take the chill off the room and sticking bubble wrap on the windows to keep the cold out also hit home. But the moment I found most devastating was when Katie’s little boy says, ‘Aren’t you having any dinner?’ And she says, ‘I’m not hungry’, as that was a conversation I had with my son on many nights.”
I, Daniel Blake is also reminiscent of the many shocking true stories of people on benefits being sanctioned that UNITElive has featured before.
The film is already making waves both in the UK and internationally – it has won the coveted Palme d’Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival and is rumoured to be in the running as a potential Oscar nominee.
While the official release date is not until October 21, Unite has teamed up with the film’s distributors to show special free screenings in 33 cinemas in cities across the UK to Unite members on Monday, October 3.
Unite Community will also be staging protests in the run-up to the film’s official release date on October 21 outside Tory MP constituency surgeries, inviting them to watch the film.
We’ll be sending more information to Unite members about how they can get involved and how they can get their free ticket in the coming days.
Unite campaigns officer Chantal Chegrinec said that the film “packs an emotional punch.”
“It may well make you cry, it should make you angry and then it will make you want to challenge the way this Tory government has demonised the most vulnerable in our society,” she added.
Chegrinec argued that, scariest of all, is that what happens to Daniel and Katie in the film is something that could happen to any of us.
“How would you cope with being made redundant? Or falling ill? How long would your savings last?
“The housing charity Shelter reports one in three working families are one paycheque away from losing their home,” she said. “Nearly 1m people are now on zero hours contracts, never knowing how much they will earn from week to week. 16.5m working-age adults in the UK have no savings at all.”
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner urged everyone to go out and watch the film, and to tell their friends and family, too.
“This is a very important film – anyone who claims to care about the future of our country should see it, especially MPs,” said Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner. “It dramatises with devastating accuracy what so many people have to deal with in Tory Britain – ordinary people who become the victims of circumstances beyond their control and are suddenly thrown into a hellhole from which they cannot escape.
“And to add insult to injury they are demonised by the government instead of being supported by the welfare state that so many people dedicated their lives to building after the devastation of the Second World War so that stories like Daniel Blake’s remain just that – stories,” Turner added.
“But it is a sad reality that in the fifth richest country in the world, food banks distributed more than 1m three-day emergency food supplies in the last year alone and homelessness and child poverty has risen each and every year.
“It is Unite’s hope that I, Daniel Blake bolsters the argument that austerity must end now – the longer we persist with this government’s failed policies, the more people will suffer.”