Iain Duncan Smith’s claim that I, Daniel Blake is not factually accurate really is beyond the pale.
The former Work and Pensions Secretary, who lied, bluffed and fabricated his way through nearly six years of accusations that his department’s decisions were causing the deaths of benefit claimants, appears to be continuing in the same vein now.
So when he said, on the BBC’s Today programme, “The film has taken the very worst of anything that can ever happen to anybody, lump it all together, and say this is life absolutely as it lived by people and I don’t believe that,” I knew to take that with a hundredweight of salt.
His claim that “This idea that everybody is out to crunch you has really hurt a lot of Job Centre staff” is a classic Tory tactic – “Look, you’re hurting people just like you! Stop it!” Except, of course, Job Centre staff aren’t all just like us – especially those who give the orders and set the target numbers to be cleared off the benefit books.
(I certainly hope nobody is stupid enough to try to deny that this happens, as we have photographic evidence of it.)
“When we [the Conservative Party] came back in 2010 you had one of the worst situations, some of the highest number of long term unemployed we had ever had and a lot of people who simply weren’t able to get the right support and assistance. The system has turned this around dramatically,” he said. Quite right. Now a lot of people simply aren’t able to get the right support and assistance, and the country has some of the highest number of long term unemployed it has ever had.
(If you’re confused by the significance of me merely reversing what he said, bear in mind that he said the system had “turned this around”. He said nothing about either of those issues being reduced.)
His comments were really just more nonsense dissembling. There’s no substance to them at all – so, when I, Daniel Blake producer Rebecca O’Brien told the i that IDS was living in cloud cuckoo land, I could do nothing but agree.
“Some people have had far worse lives than Daniel Blake,” Rebecca O’Brien tells the i. “We could have been far more scathing, but we were worried that we wouldn’t have been believed.
“If [Duncan Smith] doesn’t think the film is realistic, then the man is living in cloud cuckoo land,” counters O’Brien.
She points to the thorough research conducted by Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty, the director’s longtime collaborator. “Every plot element is backed up by 20, 50, 100 real-life cases. Just look at social media, or the comment sections under articles about the film, since its release. People are sharing similar stories all the time.”
Since the film’s release, several critics have condemned it for unsubtle characterisation: the hero is virtuous, the Jobcentre staff heartless.
In her Sunday Times review, Camilla Long wrote that she would have “preferred to watch a ragged, possibly drunk housewife trying to print out her boarding pass. It would be more unpredictable, more gritty, more real.” The Daily Mail‘s Toby Young calls Blake “a welfare claimant as imagined by a member of the upper-middle class metropolitan elite”.
O’Brien has no truck with this line of criticism. “Toby Young complains that Daniel never drinks or smokes,” she says. “He’s just had a heart attack, for god’s sake!
“Ultimately, these characters are like you or me. Daniel can’t get through the 52-page document you need to fill out in order to claim benefits. But then nor could Dave [Johns, who plays Daniel Blake], during rehearsals. It’s just too gruelling.”
In his six years at the helm of the Department of Work and Pensions, Duncan Smith presided over £15 billion of cuts to the benefits system. His highly controversial overhaul of the welfare state is the subtext to the film’s plot: one furious character even rages about “that baldy twat Iain Duncan Whatshisface”.
The MP resigned from the post in March 2016 over the extent of the cuts imposed on the department by David Cameron and George Osborne, then prime minister and chancellor. In his Today interview, Duncan Smith called on Theresa May to reverse a further £3.4 billion of planned cuts to the benefits system.
Ms O’Brien is right to point to the huge amount of material published on the social media, showing the extent of the damage caused by Duncan Smith’s £15 billion of cuts. The DWP is a big department – the government’s biggest – and this means it is capable of extreme harm.
Duncan Smith spent years trying to talk down the evidence of it – unfortunately with a large amount of success, thanks to the collusion of the right-wing media who were cheerleading for him and a supine post-New Labour opposition.
But the evidence is there. All you have to do is ask a search engine and you can find hundreds of stories showing how the benefit system has hurt people – people with worse conditions than Daniel Blake. Try it.
The comment about the ESA50 form that must be filled out by claimants is spot-on. For several years now, the advice from people in the know is that claimants should always seek help from people with experience, from one of the help organisations that have sprung up since the Tories took over the DWP in 2010, and should on no account attempt to fill out the form alone. That simply leads to refusal.
Let’s be honest, though.
We all know why Iain Duncan Smith doesn’t like the film.
It’s the reference to him as “that baldy twat Iain Duncan Whatshisface”.
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