Last night I attended a showing of the much acclaimed film “I, Daniel Blake”. Rather than attempt a synopsis of the film’s content I refer you to Wikipedia, although I have to warn folk – this does contain spoilers. It was screened at one of my nearby churches (Crowstone URC), as part of its monthly Sunday evening program, when it screens a film with a specific social edge (I last attended its showing of “Casablanca” – one of my all time favourites).
The church was full and following the showing of the film there was a lively discussion involving four panelists, each of which had valuable insights into some of the themes covered by the film. While for me there was a sense of impatience, wanting the film to come to an end (partly because of the harrowing nature of what was covered) it was none the less riveting viewing, with a fair share of tear jerking moments. For me there were three (at least) that stuck out: when the little girl came to Daniel’s house, when he was really down on his luck, making the perfectly logical point that having helped her family was it not time for them to help him? Another was at the end, following his death (sorry for the spoiler) when the mother he had helped, who at the end had been helping him, read his own statement, and which simply reflected his own dignity and decency as a human being and his defiance and righteous anger against injustice. The third was the sense of shame and despair felt by those who find themselves in a bad place, especially when it comes to being reliant on charity, and how can we address this? It occurred to me that while society can come down heavily on folk it deems to have “only themselves to blame” for whatever predicament they find themselves in, the truth is “there but for the grace of God, go I”.
That the “system” is broken is something I have reflected upon long before I became a community activist. This is especially true when it comes to providing an appropriate safety net, specifically through the benefits system, for those who fall on hard times. Many of my own community activist efforts has been about plugging the gaps and dealing with victims of a broken system. What was great about this event, and all credit to the event organizers, is in the audience there were many I know who were doing just that, often away from the limelight, and many more ripe for mobilization who can do the same. People getting “sanctioned”, which is when Daniel’s problems began to escalate, is an oft repeated theme, and is part of the complex dilemma we are faced with when trying to help. While it is easy to blame the government, it was good there was a DWP panelist (one I deal with who helps with a good deal of success some of the homeless folk I help) to say compassion and common sense exists. As for food banks (who come out well in the film) and examples of kind action and good neighborliness, these were all positives.
Lots of useful stuff came out in the panel discussion. I was disappointed over part of it, when the focus was on immigration, which I saw as an unhelpful diversion, making it unnecessarily politicized (this coming from one that feels while we should welcome foreigners in the country, we let in too many). The two (and there were many more) points that came out I went away with, in the “what we do next” category, are: we (and particularly the policy makers and funding providers) need to understand the perspective of people like Daniel and Kate (the afore mentioned mum) and we saw in the film the power of community supporting its members and would there be more of it. As for the present, while Daniels story is an extreme example, it is not unique. A little prior to coming to the film, I saw a guy I knew, drunk in the street. I have seen him up and I have seen him down, but seeing him down and knowing a little of his own “Daniel” story, it made me sad. And there are many others in similar predicaments and many more who are not in a good place. Attending last night’s event reminded me once again that there is work still to be done to make our society compassionate and just, and each one of us can play our part.