I, Daniel Blake - memories of Thatcherism - Apr 4, 2017. -1

I, Daniel Blake - memories of Thatcherism  image

Watching Ken Loach’s latest work recently in the market town of Aylesbury, Bucks brought back some vivid memories to me. The movie itself, is Loach at is best, sometimes funny, sometimes harrowing and often tear provoking. The story revolves around Daniel Blake, a skilled Carpenter, who is forced to claim benefits after suffering a massive heart attack and being laid off work by his local GP. In his mid to late 50’s he lived on his own after losing his wife to cancer several years previously. He had no other dependants and lived in council accommodation. In his spare time he used his woodworking skills to make small carvings and had a good relationship with his neighbours.


His first trip to the DWP lays out the process claimants have to go through when applying for help from the state and the terminology used, such as client, decision maker, etc. His bewilderment at not being able to discuss his situation to a human being is both funny, eye opening and compounded by the fact he has no option but to apply online. Not exactly a Luddite but to a man who had never owned or used a computer never mind heard of WiFi his attempts to explain his predicament to the DWP were met with indifference and threats to sanction. His only option was to find a way to apply online with no support from the DWP. His attempts at the local library to fill in the online form was hilarious, despite the seriousness of his plight, particularly to anyone who has watched their elders trying to use a computer. If Peter Kay were to do a sketch like this on one of his many TV shows he would be lauded for his genius.


Aside from filling in his claim form, Daniel had other issues to deal with. It was explained to him that he had two options when claiming for benefits, either Disability Benefit (DB) or Job Seeker's Allowance (JSA) were his options. DB was the obvious route you would think, given his heart attack, but not in DWP world, the rules laid down mean that a GP’s diagnosis is not sufficient and a DWP health professional has to analyse the claim and pass the findings on to a Decision Maker who then makes the final decision on whether the person is eligible to make a claim. To compound this absurdity this health assessment and decision is all carried out by phone and the claimant can't proceed or get any help until the decision is made and communicated to him by phone. In what seems like an attempt to appease auditors (or more likely Ministers) rather than claimants there is the even more absurd Hardship claim which can be applied for by claimants waiting on a Decision, provided they fill in yet another electronic form. Completely bewildered by this obfuscation, his typical Geordie reaction was to think they were pulling his leg until he witnesses yet another draconian action by the DWP who refuse to process a claim from a young unmarried mother who was late for her appointment and use Security staff to eject her. He forms a friendship with the young woman and offers her some help.


The rest of the story takes you through what it is like in Britain under the current regime with Daniel Blake told in order to be eligible for the Hardship allowance he has to ‘actively’ prove he is looking for work despite being told by his GP he is not fit to work. He starts to criticise the stupidity of the process and is threatened with being sanctioned by the DWP employee advising him and his warned he will be removed from the office by the Security staff. Incredulous, he his taken to one side by a more sympathetic DWP employee and is advised to ‘play the game’ or risk going without. The rest of the movie shows what it is like in Tory Britain when you are at the bottom of the pile. Daniel is forced to attend a CV creating workshop (he had no idea what a CV was) again under threat of sanction and subsequently walks around small local firms asking for a job as directed to by the DWP and as his savings are fast disappearing on bills. He returns to the DWP to check his claim where he is then asked to prove that he has been actively seeking employment, when he explains that he has been walking around local companies he is told it is not acceptable and that he has to show proof by email that he has contacted businesses. His position is compounded when he receives news from his ‘Decision Maker’ that he is not eligible for DB and that he needs to claim for Job Seekers Allowance. By this time, his possessions are being removed and his council rent is in arrears. His only option left was to appeal against the decision and it’s at this stage that the movie ends with a typical Loach ending and lots more eye opening insights into Tory Britain to see.


As previously alluded to this movie brought back memories for me of living in the North East in the 1980’s when Thatcher and Tebbit along with McGregor were tearing a hole in the manufacturing base of the country in an effort to tame the unions. Unemployment started to kick in and even with the nefarious ‘manipulation of the figures’ rose to over 3 million which given in the 1979 general election one of the Tories main campaigning posters was ‘Labour isn’t working’ quoting figures of just over 1.5 million it makes you wonder how on earth people fell for it?


I moved to the area with my wife to be, a native of South Shields and found work was as scarce there as it was back in my native Liverpool. In true Tebbit fashion I had been on my bike chasing work since leaving Liverpool in 1979 as a skilled fabricator welder. With Liverpool suffering high unemployment at the time and, as I found out later being in a ‘managed decline’ by the then Conservative government in their dispute with the Liverpool Militant council, I worked in the ever declining engineering industry in Buckingham, Sussex, London and Kent before moving to the Lake District doing seasonal hotel work to make ends meet. It was here I met the wife to be and together during the winter months we would return to South Shields where I managed to get temporary work as a contractor in the local shipyards. The Shipyards themselves were under attack from Thatcher and her cohorts and the work itself was a throwback to the early 1900’s whereby there was no guaranteed work, you were hired and fired by the chargehands of the companies, sometimes you may get 2 days work sometimes 2 weeks and occasionally longer. In between jobs, you were laid off and had to go down to the benefits office to register for unemployment benefit on your first day of unemployment as the rules were such that your benefits started when your pay ran out and the calculation only started from the day you signed on.


There were times when I started and finished up to three short term contract jobs within the space of a few weeks. The inefficiency of the benefits system even then meant I could have up to three eviction notices from the local authority for non payment of rent whilst waiting for the three claims to go through their processing system. Each threat of eviction notice required another trip to the office to explain in person to them that it was their own processes which were delaying the payments. Like in the I Daniel Blake scenario there was a certain amount of deliberate ploys being perpetrated by the Government to make the claiming of benefits to be a protracted affair to help discourage claimants. In my case there were times I had to refuse work because of a summons to the benefit office and hope there would be another opportunity in the following days. The sheer folly of this type of job situation and the stress and frustration caused by it led some people to avoid short term work and others to work without declaring it. The inherent dangers of being involved in benefit fraud sometimes had to be offset by some people trying to avoid debt and was seen as a necessary evil in order to put food on the table and in the mouths of their children rather than the media perception of ‘Great Train Robber’ types doing it for greed. Much of this type of short term employment was a direct result of government policies (or if you are a Daily Mail reader, down to the heavily unionised, unprofitable industries) which deliberately undermined the huge manufacturing base in this country, their determination to defeat the large manufacturing unions regardless of the costs to the exchequer and drive investment into new industries in the south east of the UK is still having reverberations to this day. Regardless of your views on unions or big business, the effect on the economy of closing down that amount of industries without a plan B for the sheer numbers of people who would be directly unemployed, nevermind all the satellite industries and supply chains that depended upon them can only be construed as a folly and is arguably responsible for the breakdown in communal responsibility across great swathes of the country as well as the fractured societies now commonplace in deprived areas.


Thatcher and her successors have all talked about one nation government which is a political version of promoting one thing while following a different agenda. It's clear that the assault on those at the bottom of the chain is a prolonged and consistent strategy to deter benefit claims and use the money to create tax breaks for the wealthy and privileged or to prop up mismanagement of the economy. We've had a policy of austerity for many years now, where working families have been told to tighten their belts again and again yet when we need to find money to drop bombs on Syria we can find it (regardless of whether you or I agree with the policy) we cut payments to the disabled yet we find millions of pounds to renovate Buckingham palace and to buy a new Royal Yacht. Whether you agree with the Monarchy or not, when money is tight this seems wrong. When money is tight and nurses haven't had pay rises in several years why is it correct for MP’s to vote themselves a 10% pay rise?


Allowing deregulation that enables billionaires like Sir Philip Green to act like he did with the pensions of his BHS employees is wrong and not forcing him to stand by his commitments but allowing him to negotiate is shockingly wrong, then you have a prime example of how working class families are manipulated by the wheels of power and their cohorts in the mainstream media when the Owners of Tata Steel, after taking advantage of the Tories willingness to sell off every last bit of the UK manufacturing base to overseas concerns at bargain prices can effectively blackmail their employees to accept reduced pensions in order to keep their jobs.


They say that history has a way of repeating itself and that we should learn it in order to avoid the mistakes of the past but looking back it seems the elite have been and continue to be one step ahead in ensuring the mass of the population are kept hoodwinked while they channel the wealth of the nation to those who need it less and all the while aided and abetted by their co conspirators in the media.


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Category: General Stuff | Posted by: The BabelCopter


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