#Film Review: Amazon’s I, Daniel Blake (2017)

Rating: 4/5

Amazon’s new film is a prime example of what happens to people when they can’t cope with bureaucracy and when they fall from the ladder. This film, directed by Ken Loach, shows just that. The film was officially released in 2016, but it came to DVD and Amazon this year.

Daniel Blake (Dave Johns)  and his neighbour Katie (Hayley Squires) are struggling to cope with daily lives. They meet at the Job Centre trying to get benefits, and they both fail miserably.

Daniel fails because he did not have enough patience to answer a bunch of questions for health assessment to get disability allowance. I never claimed anything but I could imagine how annoying these questions can be. It is enough to remember all questions one gets asked when calling NHS emergency for a simple toothache to instantly get upset.

However, because Daniel snaps and looses patience he gets a negative response and even though he had a serious heart attack he is denied financial assistance. He thus needs to refer to Jobseeker allowance (JSA), but this requires registering online as well as attending CV writing workshops and proving that he truly looked for a job. He did write a CV (as it later turns out, this was rather a handwritten statement) and walked around looking for jobs. He thought the list of places he visited would be enough to prove he looked for jobs, but as it turns out the evidence of applying also needs to be done online or he needs confirmations from places he visited. His CV is also not written to the satisfaction of Job Centre staff member and thus he is faced with sanctions and refusal of JSA. In translation, this also means financial hardship as one has no money to survive.

His neighbour Katie, on the other hand, moved from London where she got housing but she can’t find any job and feed her two kids. She was a few minutes late to Job Centre and thus missed her appointment. She goes with Daniel to the food bank and we witness a heartbreaking scene where she opens a can of tomatoes and puts them in the mouth hysterically because she is so hungry that she can’t cope anymore. Food bank however does not have any sanitary towels or cosmetic, and she is then forced to shoplift. Security officer offers help with finding work, and she ends up in prostitution.

Meanwhile, Daniel’s appeal is finally progressing and he gets an appointment for hearing after he sold all furniture and got sick from poverty and disappointments. While waiting for hearing together with Katie, a new tragedy happens….

This is a slow but meaningful film that a viewer can’t let go, especially if based in the UK with some knowledge of how the benefits system (and every other part of the system) works. The film shows how people’s lives can be destroyed for a as little as two minutes bus delay and missing a JSA appointment, and by refusing to comply with (indeed annoying) system forcing you to answer a whole range of unnecessary questions. The film quite vividly portrays poverty, desperate quest for help and quite scandalous benefits system.

Job Centre staff is portrayed as heartless and in a very negative way except for Anne (Kate Rutter) who tried to help Daniel as much as she could only to be told off by her manager who warned her they cannot give individual help, which again shows heartless bureaucracy but it also shows that not everyone who works for the system is heartless. This is indeed the case, as there are nice people everywhere.

I suppose, it all comes down to individuals. But, most of all it seems that it all comes down to digital literacy and playing the system, something not everyone is able to do. Sadly.

Thank you for reading.

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