I, Daniel Blake is one of those films everybody thinks I should see. A typical conversation, or text message, goes something like this, sorry you missed the screening, you’d have loved it and the discussion afterwards in Dalmuir library. It’s one of those films I already know the story. Some old guy meets up with some young girl who has kids. They’re on the buroo and they get shat on from a great height because they’re poor and working class and powerless to do anything about it. Yep, that’s pretty much how the film worked out. The DVD I was loaned was still in the original cellophane. That’s like somebody saying that’s my favourite song, but I’ve not listened to it. You’ll love it.
It’s a heresy to say I was underwhelmed. we did have a cameo of Daniel Blake going about Newcastle asking employers ‘geez a job’, with echoes of Yosser Hughes, I much preferred Boys from the Blackstuff, (watched by upwards of 20 million viewers) or even Cathy Come Home, that Play for Today, all those years ago (watched by five people that had a new-fangled telly) which triggered a debate about housing and the setting up of the charity Shelter. That’s an exaggeration; I didn’t see the original Cathy, because I was still in my pram.
I have, however, been to Jobcentre Plus. Here I,Daniel had good cop, bad cop benefit- advisor routine and meddlesome staff workers trying to talk sense to Daniel when we know the government premise of welfare is to penalise and punish claimants and make them suffer unnecessarily by taking away what little money they are legally due to live on. We all know about having an up-to-date CV, the blather that goes with it about standing out from the crowd and how every failure is an opportunity. Daniel and single-mother Cathy are the salt-of-the earth type that want to work, but can’t. They attend the local Foodbank together and she starves herself to feed her children. Caught shoplifting, she’s let off with a caution by a kindly manage, but pimped by the security guard and agrees to work in a brothel because her daughter has no shoes. She has dreams of that placebo we call education and is going to do an Open University course. Ho hum.
When Daniel does turn and sprays a message of defiance on the walls of the Jobcentre Plus asking to be treated as a human that’s the high point and denouement of the film. We’ve still got a bit to go, but you know what I mean. I am not a number. I am a person. I demand to be treated as a human, kind of thing. I much preferred a drinking buddies response which was to take a hammer from the workman fixing the stairs inside the Jobcentre and take it outside and started smashing small-minded bureaucrat’s cars in the Kilbowie Road carpark. I gave him £20 for that because I shared his frustration. It didn’t change anything. I, Daniel Blake, ho-hum. We the working class lost the propaganda war to rich Tory bastards, the reality is this film is like putting on a duffle coat and saying I’m working class. Rich people don’t care and won’t watch it anyway. Did I learn anything? No? Snap.