To describe our current social security system, following six years of Conservative ‘reform’, as Kafkaesque sounds prosaic. Yet I, Daniel Blake by Ken Loach shows us how in this case the description rings perfectly true. Despite having been employed as a carpenter his whole working life, Daniel faces a seemingly endless maze of barriers in making his claim for support after suffering a heart attack, with ‘advice’ delivered to him in rushed jobcentre interviews. He is told that he must sign a claimant commitment for jobseekers allowance and spend hours seeking work, despite his doctor stating he is unfit for work and still in recovery.
This is not news to those of us trying to support people through the system. In 2014, a constituent of mine suffered a heart attack midway through a DWP work capability assessment. He was rushed to hospital, only to find a letter telling him he had been sanctioned and his payments stopped for failing to complete the assessment when he arrived back home.
Sadly, his case is one of many thousands that I have received since being elected to Parliament. Loach’s depiction of the frustration caused by a social security system administered through faceless ‘decision-makers’ will be recognised by the many who have, through sickness or ill health, been forced to rely on it. The despair felt by many as their determination to fight the bureaucratic system ebbs away as ever greater hurdles are placed in their way is something I sadly see every day.
I believe there is a better way and a fairer way. I don’t want people who have paid into the system all their life, but then need support having become sick or disabled to be made to feel worthless and dehumanised by a state that should be there to support them.
Labour will transform the whole social security system. But fundamentally, I want to change how our social security system is perceived. The government has used the poisonous “shirker” and “scrounger” language to vilify people on social security as the new undeserving poor.
That’s why I used the trailer for I, Daniel Blake at the start of my Conference speech last month. The film brings the consequences of the Government’s current policies to full public attention. No longer should people who are ill and disabled be left to fight the system alone. We must all stand together to ensure that there are no more Daniel Blakes.