At Cambridge Citizens Advice, we’ve all been talking about 'I, Daniel Blake', Ken Loach’s latest film about one man’s experience of the benefits system. This is a review of the film by Generalist Adviser Stephen Thornton. 

As I sat in the cinema waiting for I, Daniel Blake to start, I was expecting a sharp-edged piece of political polemic, featuring hard luck stories of society's exploited unfortunates being used to ram home the Director’s point. Not a bit of it. Instead, Ken Loach’s deeply moving film turned out to be an elegiac tale of two people's deep platonic love for each other as they faced the utterly baffling and perplexing world that is our benefit system. They were Daniel, a 59 year-old widower unable to work after a heart attack but denied Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), and Katie, a young single mum of two from London who had been exiled to Newcastle, away from her social support network, just so she could find accommodation that her housing benefit would cover.

Daniel becomes a grandfather figure to Katie’s children and builds her a bookcase.  She in turn agrees to support him as he makes his benefits appeal to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).  Along the way, they are helped by a string of caring people: a former workmate, the kid next door and a Job Centre adviser.

Yet despite all this, the system screws them up. Eventually Katie has no alternative but to turn to prostitution to pay her way instead of studying for an Open University degree, while Daniel… well, I won't spoil the ending for you here. Go see the film, find out for yourself and be moved to tears.

Many commentators, especially those backing the Government’s ‘welfare reform’ programme, have accused Loach of an unrealistic portrayal of the welfare system.  I agree with them, but for a totally different reason. In my opinion, based on helping clients at Cambridge Citizens Advice, Daniel’s and Katie’s experiences were, if anything, understated in the film.  They could have been a whole lot worse.

As my wife and I went home in a reflective mood, I turned to her and said, “If only Daniel had gone to Citizens Advice, I just know we could have helped him."

Stephen Thornton, Generalist Adviser at Cambridge Citizens Advice