Director Ken Loach denounced the British government’s “conscious cruelty” towards the poor Friday after his film about the poverty and humiliation inflicted upon them by welfare cuts had critics at the Cannes film festival in tears.
The left-wing director, who turns 80 this year and is known for shining a light on the downtrodden, also got lengthy applause and shouts of “Bravo!” at a press conference after “I, Daniel Blake” was screened.
It tells of carpenter Daniel Blake’s Kafkaesque journey to get benefits in Britain after suffering a heart attack and being told by doctors he can no longer work.
But an invisible and oft-cited “decision-maker” rules he is too healthy for benefits.
Blake befriends a young single mother of two who is sanctioned for being late to the benefits centre, leaving her with no money for food
“The most vulnerable people are told their poverty is their own fault,” Loach told reporters. “If you have no work it is your fault that you haven’t got a job.
“It is shocking. It is not an issue just for people in our country, it is throughout Europe and there is a conscious cruelty in the way we are organising our lives now,” he said.
Because Blake is denied illness benefits he is forced to apply for assistance for unemployment.
That in turn forces him to spend hours hunting for jobs which he has to turn down because he is too sick to work.
– Suicide training –
Loach said that in researching the film, those who carry out assessments of people like Daniel admitted they were “given instructions on how to deal with potential suicides.”
The movie’s writer Paul Laverty said the research team was stunned at how people with mental health issues and disabilities were targeted by the welfare cuts.
He said people interviewed within the Department for Work and Pensions told them “they were humiliated at how they were forced to treat the public. There is nothing accidental about it.”
The story taps into the despair over rising unemployment and austerity in Europe after the financial crisis.
“When I read the script I thought we have really got to make this straight away, it’s such an important story to tell,” producer Rebecca O’Brien said.
The movie was warmly received by critics and Variety magazine called it “a work of scalding and moving relevance.”
Stand-up comedian and lead actor Dave Johns, who comes from Newcastle in the north east of England where the film is set, tweeted his delight at the notices: “Blown away by the reviews for our film I Daniel Blake. Let’s hope it shames those that should be shamed into change.”
Some of the most excruciating scenes in the film show Blake’s frustrations in trying to understand how to use a computer to appeal the decision cutting his benefit.
Another has the young mother he befriends, Katie, tearing open a tin of baked beans and shovelling the contents into her mouth with her hand.
At a photocall for his film’s premiere Loach, in a typically down to earth touch, went to shake hands with photographers.
The director and both his main actors have a working-class background and the actress who plays the young single mother, Katie — Hayley Squires — said her mother still lives in social housing.
Squires slammed anti-welfare “propaganda” that she said has turned working class people against each other.
“Normal people are led to believe that this amount of people are on benefits and are therefore scroungers, and this amount of people are going to work to pay so that they can scrounge.
“They’ve left us to argue among ourselves so they can keep doing what they are doing.”
Loach agreed: “It’s how the far right rises, isn’t it? It’s how the far right rises.”