It’s easy to judge the unemployed, the downtrodden and society weaklings when we are in a comfortable spot, with a steady stream of income and not having to rely on state handouts. What I, Daniel Blake teaches is that that sense of security is fleeting. A personal injury or disaster – and before you know it, you’re trying to claw your way out of sinking sand. Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) is a widower in his late 50’s and is forced off-work when he suffered a heart attack. Whilst his doctors consider him unfit for work, the ‘healthcare professional’ who he has a phone interview with thinks that he is well enough to find a job. Caught in a limbo, and facing a society that has moved on to the digital realm, Daniel is lost and ill-equipped in fighting a system that hides behind inefficiency and stuffy bureaucracy. Daniel ends up befriending a single mother, Katie (Hayley Squires) and her two children: Daisy (Brianna Shann) and Dylan (Dylan McKiernan). They find comfort and support, giving to each other out of their lack.
The seemingly sombre topic of the movie should not deter you from seeing the movie – it is a powerful critique of the British society, that is probably similar to those all over the world. Those who are unemployed and somehow fall down the crack, are often branded as being lazy and for wanting to milk the system dry. Although such people do exist, the director Ken Loach wishes to emphasise that folks like Daniel and Katie are out there, confused on what to do next, when the system seems to be more interested in check-boxes rather than genuinely helping them to get on with their lives.
I, Daniel Blake is quite painful to watch as you feel for the characters, and are equally angry at the system – but you also feel as helpless. Governments tend to focus on reducing the national debt, and offloading functions such as welfare management to contractors whose KPIs may be more linked to smooth processes rather than transformed lives. Daniel’s predicament, in which he suddenly finds himself unemployable, and yet forced to continuously find employment so he can get further state support, is a testament to this. That said, I am aware of the bigger problem as well – of weaning those who are too comfortable and over-reliant on state support. What I find abhorrent here in Australia and presumably in the UK (based on the movie), is that the efforts to reduce state welfare reliance are often cold and heartless – and without any compassion.