I, Daniel Blake tells the story of how complicated and confounding the benefits system can be to those that rely on it. Ayaz, from the Campaign and Policy team at Mind tells us why this film is so important to him and why it deserves to be nominated for a Mind Media Film Award 2017, sponsored by ODEON.
In the opening moments of I, Daniel Blake, the main character struggles to get through a benefits test which just doesn’t make sense to him. He has a heart condition and his doctor has told him he can’t work. Yet here he is being asked if he can bring his arm up to his head ‘as if to put on a hat’. The person he’s talking to isn’t malicious or unfriendly, she’s just doing her job. But as she works through her questions it becomes clear that Daniel won’t get a chance to have a real conversation. He won’t get to talk about his work as a joiner, his aspirations for the future, or about the real ways in which his heart problems are affecting his life.
Daniel’s story might well sound familiar to many of the 300,000 people with mental health problems who go through these assessments every year.
Last week I spoke to Bushra, who experiences anxiety and panic attacks, and who had to attend her appointment with support from her mum. She told the assessor about the hours it would take her to work up to going out, and about how most days she has to stay home, missing the chance to see her nephews or get to her GP appointments. When she finally got her report came back it simply said that she was able to get to the assessment centre and that she didn’t look anxious. She’s now waiting for her first meeting at the Jobcentre and hoping she’ll be able to see someone there who understands her mental health.
But there’s hope in I, Daniel Blake too. There’s the person in the library who helps Daniel with the frustrating online forms. There’s the adviser in the Jobcentre who takes the time to sit with him when he feels faint. There’s the reassuring advocate who takes on Daniel’s case. There are so many small moments of friendship. In the film it’s not people who are the problem, it’s the systems that stop people from properly talking to each other and helping one another.
I work in Mind’s campaigns team and it’s my job to support people with mental health problems to change the welfare system for the better. Sometimes the scale of that task feels enormous. But Daniel’s story is a reminder of what’s at stake. It’s a call for a system that understands people’s lives and treats everyone with dignity. It’s a story that we need to keep telling.
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