An Eastbourne anti-austerity group held a demonstration on the opening night of Ken Loach’s film I, Daniel Blake.
The Eastbourne People’s Assembly Against Austerity (EPA) demonstrated on the steps of the Curzon cinema before attending a screening of the Palme d’Or winning film on Friday (November 4).
Around 30 activists attended to raise awareness for the issues highlighted in the film, which criticises the UK benefits system.
The film follows the fortunes of a working man, Daniel, who turns to the benefit system for help after becoming ill.
Carol Mills, spokesperson for the EPA, said, “The film could easily have been based on similar stories of people living here in Eastbourne.
“The benefit system is supposed to care for us at a time of greatest need. That is why the welfare state was created, to recognise that any one of us can fall victim to circumstances beyond our control.
“Yet today this system deliberately dehumanises and degrades. It demonises people who are vulnerable.”
Last year, The Information Commissioner overruled a Government decision to block from public release statistics about the deaths of recipients of the various types of incapacity benefits.
Carol Mills said, “The Government wanted to prevent the public knowing the truth. And damning statistics they are indeed. We now know, for example, that between January and November 2011, 1,000 sick and disabled people died after being assessed by ATOS and the DWP and deemed ‘fit to work’, thus having their benefits stopped as a result.
“Shame is heaped upon benefits claimants as though poverty is somehow a ‘lifestyle choice’. A society should be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens.
“Ken Loach’s view is that the Government is deliberately orchestrating a war on welfare. He has referred in the past to ‘Cameron’s Project – war on the poor’.
“He speaks of ‘Austerity Britain’ as consciously cruel. He says ‘we should all be angry that we have allowed our society to be organised in such a way that the vulnerable are hurt the most’.
“Much of the criticism of Ken Loach’s film centres on it supposedly being ‘just a story’, ‘mere social commentary’, and ‘not a reflection of reality’. But many of us can bear witness of just how true to life it is.
“Loach was recently interviewed alongside a Conservative MP to discuss Britain’s welfare system. You would have thought they were talking about two entirely different worlds.
“The director spoke about how the film was typical of the way people are living today. He spoke of the man who had a heart attack during an assessment and who was then sanctioned for not completing the assessment.
“He spoke of the man who needed to take his wife, in premature labour, to hospital and who was later sanctioned for missing an appointment. New baby. No money. A whole family thrown into chaos.
“The MP, on the other hand, felt the film did not reflect the ‘reality’ or the ‘facts’ about how well the Government is doing. The MP said he did not recognise Ken Loach’s examples of hardship.
“Now, while he was prepared to accept there may be ‘some hardship’ (because he had seen evidence of this way back in 2012), he went on to propose that things are much better now – that the economy is growing, unemployment is up and people have faith in the Conservative government.
“This MP dismissed the film as ‘like Dickens’ and ‘just a story’. He argued that Ken Loach’s ‘Revolutionary Socialism’ was the reason he made such films.
“What! Was this MP seriously suggesting that this is what socialists do, make up unrealistic stories about the poor? Really?
“The public are being presented with two entirely contradictory narratives about how Austerity Britain is doing. The EPA aims to raise awareness of how austerity is harming the people of this town.
“We meet weekly. The Government’s representatives may wish to dismiss the hardship caused by austerity as mere story-telling but we know differently. Daniel Blake lives in this town.
“Their children live here also. If you get a chance please get along to see this film. But if you miss it, the EPA will be showing it on our small screen in the New Year.”
In a response to the demonstration, Eastbourne MP Caroline Ansell said, “The work and pensions secretary, Damian Green, has said there will be no new cuts in the welfare budget and I welcome that news.”
For more information about the People’s Assembly movement, visit www.thepeoplesassembly.org.uk