Ironically, I cannot afford to go and see “I, Daniel Blake”, the hard-hitting drama describing how good, hard-working people are reduced to a life of misery, dealing with obstacles they never asked for.
We are all Daniel Blake – the millions of us who have taken a deep breath, then walked through the doors of their local jobcentre, to be faced by someone who immediately barks “Yes? Do you have an appointment?”, before they are allowed past.
Those of us who take a seat in a room surrounded by booths, where “work coaches” inform claimants that they must spend 35 hours a week looking for work, or their benefits will be sanctioned. They must attend all jobcentre appointments, or their benefits will be sanctioned. They must attend all interviews obtained and workshops arranged, or their benefits will be sanctioned.
A video was recently published to The Guardian, documenting the real Daniel Blakes, dealing with the system every day, doing their best and being rewarded by being pushed further below the poverty line, the longer they spend looking for jobs that don’t exist.
The movie trailer, Guardian video and recent review by Jack Monroe describing the memories that flooded back upon watching the film have all reduced me to tears. My own experiences returned to the forefront of my mind.
To those who deem the film as fake, fictional, left wing propaganda, over-dramatised, sensationalist drama – tell that to the people who watch the film and see a reflection of their own lives. Who punch a wall or start sobbing, because it’s so fucking raw.
I am Daniel Blake. I was forced to turn to a system that promised a safety net, should I find myself out of employment. A system that has made it more difficult to find a job. Threatened the roof over my head twice. Dehumanised me. Reduced me to a government statistic, to be manipulated.
I remember living alone at the age of 17, in a flat that I could barely afford the bills for.
Sleeping in two coats and a thick blanket during the depths of winter, because I could not afford heating.
Standing in shops and staying in libraries until they turfed me out, just to feel the warmth.
Attending a friends’ funeral, being away for a week to support the people who needed me, then returning to the jobcentre and being informed my benefits had been suspended as “I was staying elsewhere that week so didn’t need the funds”. Watching my electricity meter’s emergency funds run out and my freezer defrost all the food inside.
Having my money stopped for not applying to enough jobs, despite there not being any available in the town I was living in. Having my money stopped because I couldn’t afford the travel to a job interview, which was seen as non-compliance with my claimant agreement.
Walking home from an interview and having my shoes fall apart in the street, because I couldn’t afford to replace them. Wearing the same long jacket every day, because it was the only item of clothing that covered the holes in every pair of trousers I owned.
Watching two women talk outside the Tesco in my hometown:
“What’s going to happen to the kids?”
“Nobody knows. They’re with her friend for now, but she can’t keep them forever.”
“I had no idea she was struggling so badly.”
“She hadn’t eaten properly in months. Her benefits got cut, she slipped out of the system and relied on food banks for the little ones. Apparently she kept trying to call the jobcentre, but they wouldn’t listen to her. Then her phone got cut off and she gave up. The funeral’s next month.”
Sleeping on a mattress blackened with filth, on the floor of a semi-stranger’s bedsit, after being evicted from my house in east London, due to being part of a system where rent allowances are not guaranteed.
Being told to fill in homework essays, and spend “several hours” on them.
Filling in the forms as requested.
Selling my Xbox – my most prized possession, a symbol of the freedom finally having a decent wage allowed me, when I was employed as University staff – for a quarter of the original price, for rent money, because my benefits had been slashed, once again.
Being told the DWP would no longer give me the amount they had originally promised, because I was “under 35”. Slamming the phone down after asking how I was supposed to keep a roof over my head and being told “I can’t comment”, just to have my work coach shout my name from across the room, forcing me to walk over to him as everyone stared, so I could be told off for “complaining.”
Realising that the jobcentre do not care, and having to remind yourself every day, when you sit filling in online forms, over and over again, to apply for jobs, that you are worth caring about, it’s just that right now, for some reason, nobody wants to listen. Nobody wants to help. But you have to keep going. Because what else is there?
“I am not a client. A customer. Nor a service user. I am not a shirker. A scrounger. A beggar. Nor a thief. I’m not a National Insurance number. Nor a blip on a screen. I paid my dues. Never a penny short. And proud to do so. I don’t tug the forelock. But look my neighbour in the eye. I don’t accept or seek charity.
“My name is Daniel Blake.
“I am a man.
“I am a woman.
“I’m a human being.
“Not a dog.
“As such, I demand my rights. I demand you treat me with respect.”