Poor seen as parasites

I, Daniel Blake stars Hayley Squires and Dave Johns.
I, Daniel Blake stars Hayley Squires and Dave Johns.PHOTO: SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
I, Daniel Blake stars Hayley Squires and Dave Johns.
Director Ken LoachPHOTO: SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Ken Loach, director of I, Daniel Blake, says the working class has always been treated badly and exploited

Tycoon Donald Trump won the presidential election in the United States because of the kind of frustrations depicted in the film I, Daniel Blake, says its director Ken Loach (pictured).

While the drama is set in England, it touches on the pain of the working class in both nations.

Loach, 80, tells The Straits Times in an e-mail interview, that "the working class has always been treated with disrespect, always been... exploited and paid as little as the employers could manage."

I, Daniel Blake (NC16, 100 minutes) is screening at the Singapore International Film Festival tomorrow and on Dec 3. A few tickets to tomorrow's screening are still available at press time.

In the film, a carpenter, Daniel (Dave Johns) is trapped in a bureaucratic maze after a heart attack leaves him too fragile to work. But job centre officials, using their own tests, find him healthy and so deny him benefits.

He meets single mother Katie (Hayley Squires) who, with her children, also face administrators hostile towards the people they are supposed to help. The pair rely on each other, and private charities, to stave off starvation and homelessness.

  • BOOK IT / I, DANIEL BLAKE

  • WHERE: Shaw Theatres Lido and Filmgarde Bugis

    WHEN: Tomorrow, 2pm (Lido); and Dec 3, 9.30pm (Bugis)

    ADMISSION: $12

    INFO: Bookings at sgiff.com

For the movie, Loach, who is known for works that carry social and political messages, won the Cannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or top prize this year.

He says the liberalising policies of Britain's former prime minister Margaret Thatcher hollowed out the industrial sector and, today, the poor are in the worst position they have been in 50 years.

The jobs left Britain, with "nothing put in its place and that's why we see Donald Trump come into power", he says.

Mr Trump, a populist who promises the return of blue-collar jobs, is seen as the man to stop the downward mobility experienced by many in working-class America.

Loach and his frequent collaborator Paul Laverty, Daniel Blake's screenwriter, believe that the press in Britain, by depicting benefits-seekers as parasites, whipped up outrage.

"The newspapers and television programmes will find an example of someone who has maybe got an addiction problem and then use that story to undermine everyone," says Loach, who had also won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2006 for The Wind That Shakes The Barley, a film set during the Irish War of Independence.

Public money spent on helping the jobless is minuscule compared with amounts taken by far worse criminals, such as the tax-dodging rich, he believes.

It would be easy for the audience of I, Daniel Blake to see job centre civil servants as the villains of the story, but that would be wrong, says Loach. They are just as much victims of the system as Daniel and Katie in the movie.

"The government policy is, of course, put in place by the politicians and they, of course, have to employ people to put it into practice," he says. "The pressure of people who work at job centres is intense and many people leave because they object to what they are being asked to do in terms of punishing the poor."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2016, with the headline 'Poor seen as parasites'. Print Edition | Subscribe