I Daniel Blake is a courageous film by the veteran social commentator Ken Loach. It follows the lives of two unlucky benefit claimers – Daniel and Katie – in the north east of England. It’s Newcastle that he uses so the screen is filled with Geordie accents, white faces and northern poverty. If he’d picked on Tottenham it’d have been a very different set of faces – predominantly black and brown – but all would be facing the exact same problems. How to cope when you’ve got no money.
I loved the film, and recommend everyone sees it (it’s a 12A because there’s a little bit of swearing). The more income you have, the more important it is that you go – that’s why Jeremy Corbyn suggested that Theresa May went to see it.
Here are some things that could be learnt from I Daniel Blake.
Britain is cold Coping without money in the summer is tough and impossible. But in the winter you need electricity and maybe gas to have light and heat. If you use it then the bills can tip you into debt. If you don’t you are just ground down by the cold. Daniel shows his friend Katie how to insulate windows with bubble wrap to trap any sunshine (I’m not sure it works, but i’ve had a go on one of my windows). He also uses four candles and two terracotta pots to build a little indoor woodburner.
- Foodbanks are essential. In an ideal world food banks wouldn’t exist. But right now is not ideal especially when an individual or family with little money has to make a big unexpected expenditure – maybe to visit a sick family member, or because they are sick, or because they have been “sanctioned” or their benefits have changed and money is delayed. The Trussel Trust organises foodbanks throughout Britain, for many they are lifesavers. Please donate a tin or two when you next can.
- It’s hard being a woman. I’d never really grasped this before, but if you have no money then you can’t afford san pro. In the film Katie ends up in big trouble because of this – and though the foodbanks offer loo roll they don’t offer Bodyform, Allways or any other sanitary towels. A friend who lived through a seige in the 1980s told me how humiliating it was running out of shampoo, soap and tampax. Poverty isn’t a war, but how embarrassing it can make life. Maybe donating some san pro to foodbanks could be a start.
- Couscous is great fast food. The thing about couscous is that it cooks so fast (compared to potatoes), is quite a cheap grain to buy (compared to rice) and fills you up just as well as bread. It can be very tasty, although that takes other ingredients. I’ve used it camping for all these reasons – but lots of people are using it because they have to. Donate couscous to the foodbank.
- Being homeless is even worse than being stuck in the Catch 22 of waiting for the call from the decision maker. There’s no safety net when you are homeless (i’ve no idea how A Street Cat Called Bob turns into a positive film!). Generally i don’t give money to homeless people – but if you haven’t got any food on you to hand out maybe giving a bit of cash is the right thing to do.
- Using spray paint is fun. And it’s hard to stop writing the message, so make sure you’ve got enough wall before you start.
See comments about the film in the Guardian.