A gut-wrenching and politically explosive powerhouse of a film for sure, but one that is unlikely to have the same devastating effect on the nation that Loachs first film, Cathy Come Home, had some fifty years ago. Whereas millions of Brits were once shocked by Loachs expose of British homelessness and the heartless bureaucracy that went with it, I Daniel Blake, is going to have to fight tooth and nail to get itself heard in this new multi-channel, multi-media era. Whereas once, just two terrestrial channels competed for our attention, now there seems to be hundreds. I Daniel Blake is a film that deserves to be watched by the entire nation though somehow I very much doubt that it will.

Loachs latest film has the same devastating effect on its audiences as did his first drama/documentary. It explores the brutal nature of our now semi-privatised benefit system, where a faceless US corporation (Maximus) can make life and death decisions as to the work fitness of sick and disabled people. Get it wrong, as it all too often does, and the consequences can de dire. I Daniel Blake does not pull its punches when it comes to exposing the ruthless regime that this Tory government has installed to beat the sick and disabled off disability benefits and into the make-believe world of job hunting.

And its not just the sick and disabled that this Tory government has in its sights. The homeless and unemployed are in for a similarly rough ride. The revised housing benefit regime that has so enriched the rentier class, is now forcing thousands of impoverished families out of their private rental accommodation in London, where their social network is well established, and forcing them into cheaper and run-down houses in the post-industrial wastelands of Britain's northern cities. It is here that these families are too often forced to survive on food banks and the charity of strangers. Again, Loach's film hits the nail squarely on its proverbial head.

Loach eloquently shows that our welfare system has become both punitive and heartless. Its sole aim is to get recipients off the books. Loach's film underlines just how dysfunctional the welfare system has become. Instead of being a safety net for those, through no fault of their own, have fallen on hard times, it has become a system that demonises and punishes people for the crime of being desperate and impoverished.

Of course, there may well be strong arguments for re-examining the British welfare system in the light of globalisation and automation, but unfortunately Loachs film, brilliant as it is, does not explore this territory. At the risk of stating the obvious, I would have thought the main foundation of any functioning welfare system is to make work pay. That can be best achieved not by the demeaning and hideously bureaucratic tax credit system but rather by taking those below £25,000 out of the tax regime altogether. Of course, this could only be achieved by forcing the super-rich to pay their fair share of the tax burden, and by ruthlessly clamping down on corporate tax avoidance, which John MacDonnell estimates to be in excess of 100 billion. Britains secretive network of off-shore tax havens is where a progressive government must look to fund a revamped, fit for purpose social security system.

Having established a real economic incentive for people to work, complete with a living wage of at least 12 per hour for all (and adjusted annually upwards for inflation), the government of the day might be pleasantly surprised as to just how few shirkers there really are.

All this of course presumes that in the face of globalisation and automation there will be enough jobs to go around. This is a real Pandoras box that filmmakers or novelists seem unwilling to tackle. But sooner rather than later we will all need to move beyond gut--wrenching critiques of the welfare system  however necessary such critiques still are, and start to explore the very future of work itself. Me, I'm waiting for that bold political party of the future to proclaim a four-hour working day and a citizen's wage for all!. With technology now close to the point of liberating humanity from the drudgery of repetitive manual work, we can all dream of moving to that sunny upland where we can proudly proclaim: Everyone a community worker, everyone an organic gardener, everyone a poet and philosopher.

End JPK Copyright 31/10/16

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Last Updated ( Saturday, 19 May 2018 08:48 )