By Dr Margaret Craig, GP in Possilpark and Springburn, Glasgow – consulted by scriptwriter, Paul Laverty, during the development of ‘I, Daniel Blake’
Critics of ‘I, Daniel Blake’, the latest film of Ken Loach and Paul Laverty, have attempted to dismiss it as unrealistic. If only it were.
Let me tell you about one of my patients here in Glasgow. A heart attack at age 58 came as a complete shock to a man who had always worked. His employer gave no sick pay forcing him to claim benefits. Eight weeks into cardiac rehabilitation he was assessed by the benefits agency as “fit for work” and his sickness benefit was stopped. His work could not take him back as he had not yet been deemed fit by the cardiac rehab team.
He was distraught. His family were furious, as were his physios and consultant. As his GP, I could not believe it. He appealed but by the time the decision was overturned he had been completely demoralised, was in debt and his recovery was significantly compromised.
Don’t tell me that this film is not an accurate representation of austerity Britain.
In my consulting room, I see a quick succession of feelings in many patients struggling with this system – first outrage, soon followed by cynicism, then finally resignation and defeat. Ken Loach and Paul Laverty stick with the outrage, explore it and show all of us our responsibility. We are left disturbed, with the need to work out what we can do to fight this iniquitous system.
‘I, Daniel Blake’ demonstrates clearly the impact of removing the minimum benefits that should be provided in a just society. That safety net was the founding vision of the welfare state, echoing Mahatma Gandhi’s assertion that “the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable”.
The film should be a wake-up call to all our politicians and policy makers. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should; if you have, tell your friends and colleagues about it and keep the conversation (and the political pressure) going. Perhaps ‘I, Daniel Blake’ can do for benefits what Loach’s 1966 film ‘Cathy Come Home’ did for homelessness – shifting attitudes, and ultimately policy, in a more compassionate and civilised direction.