Welfare 24 October 2016 Unconvinced by Ken Loach’s benefits story? That says more about Britain than the film does The director has clashed with a film critic about his representation of the welfare state in I, Daniel Blake. COURTESY OF CANNES FILM FESTIVAL Sign UpGet the New Statesman's Morning Call email. Sign-up I, Daniel Blake, Ken Loach’s new film, has kicked off a row between the director and The Sunday Times’ film critic, Camilla Long. Published on Sunday, the review – which called the film a “povvo safari for middle-class do-gooders” – has led to Loach and some audience members rowing with Long online. Underwhelmed by I, Daniel Blake. Preachy and poorly made. A povvo safari for middle class people. REVIEW https://t.co/pZiVxnfSS9 — Camilla Long (@camillalong) October 23, 2016 Thanks @Geoff_Andrew but @camillalong's ghastly review only adds fuel to fire. Outrageous and, considering meticulous research, just wrong. https://t.co/WbJk96K0KX — Ken Loach (@KenLoachSixteen) October 23, 2016 Bit pathetic of Ken Loach to set his trolls on me just because I didn't like his tedious film https://t.co/RsxHkpWH81 — Camilla Long (@camillalong) October 24, 2016 Poor Ken Loach. I'd be fucking angry if I wasn't Mike Leigh, too — Camilla Long (@camillalong) October 24, 2016 Long also describes the film – which is an unforgiving drama about the cruelty of welfare bureaucracy – as “misery porn for smug Londoners”. Her contention is that it is “condescending” and “patronising” to benefits claimants, partly because it will mainly be seen by affluent audiences, rather than “the lowest part of society” – so acts as a vehicle for middle-class guilt rather than an authentic reflection of people’s lives. I’ve seen the film, and there are parts that jar. A reference to the Bedroom Tax feels shoe-horned in, as if screenwriter Paul Laverty remembered last-minute to tick that box on his welfare scandal checklist. And an onlooker outside the Jobcentre’s rant about the Bullingdon Club, Etonians and Iain Duncan Smith also feels forced. (But to me, these parts only stood out because the rest of the script is convincing – often punishingly so.) A critic is free to tear into a film they didn’t enjoy. But the problem with Long’s review is the problem with the way Britain in general looks at the benefits system: disbelief. For example, Long calls it “a maddening computer error” and “a mysterious glitch” that Daniel Blake – a 59-year-old carpenter who has been signed off from work by his doctor after a heart attack – is denied his disability benefit. Actually it’s because he’s been found “fit to work” after an agonising tick-box phone assessment by an anonymous adviser, who is neither a nurse nor a doctor. This is a notorious problem with work capability assessments under a welfare system constantly undergoing cuts and shake-ups by successive governments. Both the Personal Independence Payment (which replaced the Disability Living Allowance in 2013 under the coalition) and Employment and Support Allowance (which replaced the Incapacity Benefit in 2007 under New Labour) have seen backlogs and delays in providing financial support to claimants, and work capability tests have repeatedly been under fire for being intrusive, inappropriate, or just wrong. Funding for those in the “work-related activity group” who claim ESA – in which you work if you are deemed able to during continual interviews with an adviser – also suffered a 30 per cent cut in last year’s budget. Also, when people claiming ESA believe they have wrongly been found “fit for work” and appeal – as Blake does in the film – more than half of decisions are overturned when they reach a tribunal. It’s a system that puts cost-cutting above people’s welfare; Jobcentre staff are even monitored individually in terms of how many sanctions they impose (Blake’s friend Katie is sanctioned in the film), making them feel as if they are working to targets. The situation for disabled, sick or broke people claiming welfare is unbelievable in this country, which is perhaps why it’s so difficult for us – or for some watching Loach’s portrayal of the cruel system – to believe it at all. At best, it’s because we would prefer to close our eyes to a system that we hope we never have to grapple with. At worst, it’s because we don’t believe people when they say they cannot work, and demonise them as “shirkers” or “scroungers”. By all means question Loach’s cinematic devices, but don’t question the point of telling the story at all – and the story itself. After all, it’s the very inability of people who rely on the state to have their voices heard that means they are always hit the hardest. › Will the collapse of the EU/Canada trade deal speed the demise of Jean-Claude Juncker? Anoosh Chakelian is the New Statesman’s Britain editor. Subscribe For the latest TV, art, films and book reviews subscribe for just £1 per month!