An elderly man struggles to receive government assistance in I, Daniel Blake. Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) is a 59 year old carpenter in Newcastle, who has been out of work following a heart attack. After a work capability assessment by the government support centre, Daniel is deemed fit for work and denied employment and support allowance, despite the opposite opinions given by his doctors. As Daniel fights to appeal this decision, he befriends impoverished single mother Katie (Hayley Squires) and tries to help make life better for her and Katie’s two children.
Ken Loach (The Wind That Shakes the Barley) won his second Palme D’Or award for this drama about an elderly man frustrated with the bureaucracy that comes with applying for government financial supports. The film opens with Daniel Blake being asked a number of questions as part of his work capability assessment. It quickly becomes apparent that these questions are more about whether or not Daniel is able-bodied enough to go back to work, despite the fact that he keeps mentioning that he has a bad heart.
Things go from bad to worse for Daniel as he tries to appeal the decision and finds out that he must submit the application online, despite the fact that he is completely computer illiterate. In addition, Daniel is advised to apply for jobseeker’s allowance in the meantime, which includes the condition that he must prove that he is looking for work, despite the fact that his doctors say that he is unfit for working. All throughout these frustrating experiences, Daniel meets Katie and her two kids, who have recently moved to Newcastle from London and are struggling greatly to support themselves. Despite his own problems, Daniel graciously offers to help Katie and her family through this tough period.
As someone who is part of the Ontario Disability Support Program, I have first-hand experience of the bureaucratic hurdles that comes with applying for government supports. Applications take months to process and there is a strict list of conditions that you have to meet to be accepted and/or keep receiving financial assistance. As such, I related greatly to the struggle faced by Daniel Blake, who is merely a man that wants to receive financial assistance, while he is recovering from a heart attack. Equally tragic is the side story of Katie, who is penalized for arriving late to an appointment, leaving her without the needed support payments to take care of her family.
To put it simply, I, Daniel Blake is a devastating film to watch. It is very hard to watch Daniel Blake to be put through the ringer time and time again, with case workers talking to him with little to no empathy, particularly the very cold and stern Sheila (Sharon Percy). In fact, the only one at the support office to show Daniel any real kindness is Ann (Kate Rutter), though her efforts to help Daniel often result in Ann being reprimanded by her superiors. Also tough to watch is the growing desperation of Katie, who gives the bulk of her limited food supply to her children, which eventually results in her having to make some extreme choices.
Even though I, Daniel Blake is a story set in the UK and a possible condemnation of the country’s Conservative government, this is a film that can be relatable to anyone dependent on government assistance. Whether it’s an elderly men with health problems or impoverished single mothers, the bureaucratic process of support programs might end up hurting clients, rather than helping them. As the screen faded to black the final time, I, Daniel Blake left me in stunned silence.