Could we have helped Daniel Blake?

The Tackling Poverty Fortnight campaign that we’re currently running at the Wales Co-operative Centre has made me think of a story that has captured the nation’s thoughts in recent months – ‘I, Daniel Blake’.

When I watched it in the cinema I was moved to tears, probably more than any other film I’ve seen. I also felt anger, which is something I’ve never experienced from watching a film before.

For those of you who are unaware, Daniel Blake (brilliantly played by Dave Johns) is a 59-year-old widowed carpenter who must rely on welfare after a recent heart attack leaves him unable to work. Despite his doctor’s diagnosis, authorities deny him benefits and tell him to return to his job. As Daniel navigates his way through an agonising appeal process, he begins to develop a strong bond with a destitute, single mother who’s struggling to take care of her two children.

The film shows Daniel’s various struggles, including with the online world, where he needs to apply for benefits and look for work. It was clear that he’d never really used a computer (e.g. he runs a mouse up the screen) and he didn’t know where to go for support. He was finding it very difficult to access support in his local Job Centre and he was only getting so far in a library. He ended up asking his younger neighbours to show him what to do. This situation is not uncommon, but is far from ideal.

All the time he was going without benefits and unable to find work he was finding it more and more difficult to make ends meet. He was unable to pay bills, he sold off the majority of possessions in his flat and he accompanied his new found friend, Katie, to the food bank to make sure they had something to eat. This was all taking its toll on his health – mentally and physically.

The struggles Daniel faced made me think of the people that are helped, directly and indirectly, by some of our projects at the Wales Co-operative Centre.

Digital Communities Wales has worked with many organisations that are helping people to find work and apply for benefits online. These organisations include libraries, Job Centre Plus (JCP), Citizens Advice Bureau, Communities First, mental health charities, family support charities and many others, that could also include social enterprises. A lot of these organisations run job clubs that try to help people back into work. Much of this work is done online, where people are taught how to use computers and the internet or how to build on existing skills. If only Daniel could have found, or been helped to find, any of these organisations. He did try a library on a number of occasions but it was clear he needed one-to-one tuition, which was not available at that particular venue.

‘Your Money, Your Home’ (YMYH) provides support to people in financial crisis, some of whom are at risk of homelessness. This was certainly the case with Daniel. The situation he found himself in was a vicious circle – he was denied disability benefit, was confused at having to apply for Jobseeker’s Allowance as he wasn’t technically out of work, and was sanctioned as his efforts at finding work were not accepted by staff at the Job Centre. Lack of IT skills aside, he was fighting a losing battle with the Job Centre which would have tested any of us.  Many of the people supported by YMYH are helped to establish whether they are on the right benefits, or if there’s any additional finance that they can access. They are also supported to improve their living arrangements if they are deemed unsuitable, particularly if there’s a risk to health. A number of examples of people that have been supported by YMYH are being published throughout Tackling Poverty Fortnight.

I won’t say any more about the film, if you haven’t seen it. I would urge you to, though. It’s an excellent film that really makes you think. It’s not an easy watch, but we should not shy away from these issues as they are real – many thousands of people in the UK are in a similar situation to Daniel. This could happen to any of us. Don’t they say that most families are only one pay-packet away from homelessness?

Visit http://www.idanielblake.co.uk/ to see whether there’s a screening of the film happening near you.

To follow the conversation on Tackling Poverty Fortnight, go to @WalesCoopCentre on Twitter and use the hashtag #PovertyInWales.

 

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