I, Daniel Blake, a film about a Newcastle widower with a serious heart condition and a young single mother going through the trails of the British welfare state. 100 minutes that really show the impact of relative poverty, a depressed job market, austerity measures and a heartless point-based benefit system that diminishes the face of our most disadvantaged in society.
The definition of welfare usually implies a statutory procedure or social effort designed to promote the basic physical and material well-being of people in need. The welfare state was first introduced in the UK between 1945-1951 by Labour after the 1942 Beveridge Report which “…spelled out a system of social insurance, covering every citizen regardless of income. It offered nothing less than a cradle-to-grave welfare state.” Although the welfare state is still in place today, the various benefits and rates awarded to those eligible have changed over time only to further disadvantage those who depend on them.
Having studied Sociology, I’ve always been acutely aware of the issues that surround social inequality as well as the negative bias and stereotyping from the media and certain political groups. It has been a while since I’ve looked at my old study notes but I remember the opposing ideologies and in particular, the neo-liberalist term of Laissez-faire which puts emphasis on the free market with little state intervention. Of course we know that the British Conservatives could be classified as such, as they’ve been slowly dismantling elements of the welfare state and privatising public services for some time now. They’re not known as the ‘nasty party’ for no reason as they have a track record of pursuing policies that affect the vulnerable and most disadvantaged.
Single-parents are one of the most notable groups which have been met with their wrath. I, myself was a child of a young single-mother. I remember living in the hostel with my mum until we were homed in a seriously run-down house in a very undesirable area in West-Belfast. Times were hard back then but I was never left for wanting, and we were lucky to have a very supportive extended family. Unfortunately, this is not the case for everyone. Many young single-mothers navigate the precarious waters of parenthood without much support and have to raise a family on a very inadequate income.
The 1990’s is when they were hit hardest. The first time was in 1993 when the Tory John Redwood advocated that single-mothers be denied their benefits until absent fathers had been pressed to return home to support them. The second time was in 1997 by Tony Blair’s ‘New’ Labour with the scraping of lone-parent benefits. These measures were met with opposition within the traditional Labour ranks; however, the bill was passed through parliament regardless due to Tory support. In recent times with the Conservatives austerity package to ‘combat’ spending costs, the situation for lone-parents has become significantly worse. The Think-Tank, IPPR in association with Child Poverty Action Group, have indicated that Tory benefit changes since 2010 will have cost working single parents up to £2,850 a year while out-of-work single parents would lose up to £1,538 a year by 2020. At present, it is estimated that 1-in-4 children in the UK grow up in poverty, and as most of us know, poverty is a vicious cycle. Therefore, how are we suppose to eradicate poverty when we refuse to invest to improve their circumstances and the chance for a better future?
However, looking at numbers and statistics can only put these things into perspective to a certain point. One of the main characters in the film of ‘I, Daniel Blake’ was Katie, a young single mother to two children who had been relocated to Newcastle from her hometown of London as it was her only option to get social housing. Throughout the film, we see Katie doing the stuff we often hear stories about, such as young mothers going hungry in order to put enough food on the table for their children; thus, becoming malnourished themselves. One of the most pivotal scenes for me in the film was when Katie was in the food bank, she was that hungry, she opened a tin of baked beans in a corner and ate the contents with her bare hands. She then began to weep out of embarrassment and desperation of her act. What was also an evident hardship for Katie was the fact she was a woman. Being a woman in general, we have mandatory extra monthly costs associated with personal hygiene. For Katie, she often had to go without these basics in order to get food necessities for her children. Throughout the film, we see Katie resorting to desperate acts just to get by. Who says poverty isn’t sexist?
But let’s not forget the namesake of the film, Daniel Blake. We go on his journey with him as he tries to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and becomes increasingly frustrated and disillusioned by the numerous impediments of the system. By the end of the film, we see his personal circumstances, living conditions and health deteriorate to him becoming an unrecognisable man from when we first met him. The constant challenges in order to appeal the decision of being ineligible for the ESA wear him down to the point where he almost gives up. The run-around bureaucracy and ‘make it as difficult as possible’ attitude of the benefits system not only demoralised him, but they dehumanised him. He was just “…another name on the computer the state wants rid off.”
As most of us know, Theresa May has called for a snap election for the 8th June 2017. This election was called with Brexit in mind as May wants to solidify her hard-Brexit strategy with public support and gain a greater majority in parliament. However, she could have possibly over-estimated her support in her arrogance with assuming that the country is so ‘Brexit Mad’ that they would support her even with her attacks on social care services. One would hope that the general population of England and the other regions where the Tories are running candidates would not be so easily duped by the empty ‘strong and stable’ rhetoric. However, if we take Brexit out of the equation and focus on one of the biggest issues that has been facing all of the UK regions, it has been the austerity cuts that Cameron’s administration had forced upon us initially, of which Theresa May has carried on.
I for one want the end of Tory rule; I’m tired of the sniggering, malcontent, question-dodging and the lies of the Conservatives; I’ve had it up to my back-teeth with austerity and with public services being targeted; I’m sick of hearing stories of desperation from those living on the bread-line and having to depend on food banks for sustenance; I’ve just about had it with the political system that works for the few and not the many; I’m angry that the Tories continually go after the disabled, children, youth, pensioners, single-parents, low-income families; health-care workers; teachers, etc; I’m furious that they would attempt to diminish human rights, civil liberties, workers rights and pursue foreign policy that is inhuman and immoral; and finally, I’m saddened for the individuals like Daniel Blake and Katie who suffer everyday because of callous and ill-conceived social policy that politicians may or may not know of the consequences of such legislation.
Therefore, I have a number of pleas to my readers I would like to finish with:
- Watch the film I, Daniel Blake which was released last year in 2016. You would be hard-pressed not to get emotional at times that this is a stark reality for many of our poorest in society. It was somewhat of a reminder for me of the impact policy can have and it might be a wake-up call for other, but regardless, it’s important that we’re all aware that such realities do exist.
- Vote – and get everyone you know to vote! Thankfully there has been an increase in those registering to vote; however, as a society we’re too apathetic to political life which only diminishes accountability and democracy. You’re one vote is a small but significant act. It makes up a collective voice of people who are advocating for a particular agenda. Statistically, young women like Katie are among those who are unlikely to vote but as we’ve seen, they’re often the most affected. Women had to fight for the right to vote, so I urge all my compatriots to use their vote to stop the subjugation and oppression of women.
- Although it is your democratic right to vote for whoever you wish, I would urge my readers to carefully consider which political parties they are voting for. If you are from Northern Ireland and you are a Unionist voter, you are inherently voting for the Conservatives. There are other parties that are not Nationalist/Republican that you can vote for without aligning to the Tory austerity agenda. I know it’s hard to get away from our green/orange tribalism, but sometimes we need to look at the bigger picture. For my readers elsewhere in the UK, I would also urge you to vote for any opposition party – Theresa May wants an easy majority so that she can implement reckless and harsh legislation, let’s not give it to her.
- Whatever the result after the election, let’s just learn to be more kind to each other. The system may be against us but we’re stronger when we’re working together and looking out for each other. No matter what our differences, we all hurt the same way and at the end of the day, we all want the same basic things out of life – just to get by with a wee bit of love and hope for the future.