Martin Charlesworth
A film to challenge our churches

I have just watched the recently released and acclaimed film I, Daniel Blake. It has received seven Bafta nominations and surprised film critics by winning the Palme D’Or at Cannes this year. As a result, it is being widely watched despite its apparently unlikely theme of one man’s battle with Britain’s benefits regime.

In case you haven’t seen the film, here’s the main story. Daniel Blake, a middle-aged widower and lifelong working man from Newcastle, suddenly finds his life turned upside down when he has a heart attack. He is signed off work as a carpenter and enters into a battle to get his benefits. His Employment Support Allowance (ESA) is refused and he is put on Job Seekers' Allowance (JSA) even though he can’t work for medical reasons.

As the story unfolds, Daniel gets tangled up in a benefits system that he does not understand and which he cannot properly access, despite his best efforts. He then meets someone facing a similar plight: a single mum, Katie, and her two children. They become friends.

The film is rich in poignant scenes of Daniel and Katie both trying to resolve their respective difficulties with the benefits system. Katie’s visit to a local foodbank and Daniel’s numerous visits to his local JobCentre Plus have a powerful impact on the viewer. 

This remarkable film forcibly reminds us that the current British benefits system can be punitive and can humiliate and disempower many of those it is apparently designed to help. As I watched the film I was reminded of people and situations that I have known in which the same type of scenarios are played out day after day.

There is a big challenge here for churches. We have our foodbanks and that is good. However, there is a crying need to help many people who are lacking in the basic skills of life and who need advocates as they face the complex and challenging processes of the benefits system.

If you haven’t seen the film – then don’t delay.