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calendar18 October 2016

Author: Marianne Clough

The real Daniel Blake

The real Daniel Blake

I’m angry. It’s not a usual situation for me. I’m usually quite an upbeat person but perhaps, on this occasion, I need to be like this.

Yesterday, as the release date approached for the gritty docu-film I, Daniel Blake, I asked our frontline staff at CAP if we had a case study like his.

Had anyone, I asked naively, had any recent contact with anyone like the character in the film?

Daniel Blake, I should explain, is a widower who has had a major heart attack and his GP says he’s not fit to work but the Job Centre says he is, and he won’t get any benefits until he ‘looks for work’. So, while he appeals via an unforgiving online system the bills remain unpaid.

It’s a very sad film – don’t think of going without your hankies - but I’m not angry about the fictional person’s situation.

Within the space of a few hours of my request, my inbox was filling up with story after story: the reality of a system failing vulnerable people.

In Derbyshire, there’s a man aged 60, who has suffered five heart attacks, living in an unheated flat. It’s been without heating since last year. His debt problem began when he was regarded by the DWP as being fit for work and his benefits changed. He has been for interviews at the Job Centre – all are manual labour positions yet his doctor has said categorically that he must not work.

In Dorset, there’s a couple barely able to cover the rent because the man has been turned down for PIP (personal independence payment). Things were so desperate that he attempted suicide the day before the first visit from the CAP Centre Manager.

In South Wales, a single mum suffering from depression was assessed as fit for work. Her depression worsened and she was cut off completely from any money. She cried out to her bank and was given a loan, planning to pay it off with another benefit when it came but she was unable to play ‘catch up’ and ended up with debt problems too.

The list goes on – and on. There are Daniel Blakes in every Job Centre and Foodbank. Every single one is a scandal and it must be crushing for Job Centre staff to know they can only do so much within the constraints they face.

Thank God that in all the above situations, the Church is on hand. Food parcels are being delivered, creditors are being called, loneliness is being tackled by caring people with invitations to church breakfasts and more. Thank God that Job Centre Plus regularly refer people to CAP.

But how many more are totally isolated, facing their crisis alone?

Film Director Ken Loach says this: "We need to move on from anger and think - and do something."

What will I do? What will you do?

I, Daniel Blake is released across the UK on Friday 21 October. Read The Guardian’s review here.

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