"I am not a client, a customer, nor a service user. I am not a shirker, a scrounger, a beggar, nor a thief. I'm not a National Insurance Number or blip on a screen. I paid my dues, never a penny short, and proud to do so. I don't tug the forelock, but look my neighbour in the eye and help him if I can. I don't accept or seek charity. My name is Daniel Blake. I am a man, not a dog. As such, I demand my rights. I demand you treat me with respect. I, Daniel Blake, am a citizen, nothing more and nothing less."
Last Friday, with sponsorship from the union Unite, Cranhill Development Trust (CDT) showed Ken Loach’s film ‘I, Daniel Blake’ at our monthly community meal. The food was delicious, and the company was good. Some folk hadn’t been along to the meal or anything else at CDT before.
After the film folk shared their own experiences of not being listened to, of sanctions, and, from the point of view of a DWP staff member, the pressure workers are under to reduce the numbers of those claiming benefits. The film is painfully funny at moments, as well as infuriating and very sad. Every incident in it is based on someone’s real experience. While the degradation and erosion of individual self-esteem is painful to watch, on reflection I think it is the privatisation of poverty that makes me most angry. The film character Daniel Blake is proud man, he asks for help and passers-by and a sympathetic DWP worker offer a little assistance. But it’s not joined up. There is no recognition of collective struggle. There is little sense that we are all Daniel Blake, with many people just a pay check away from the same red top bills and disconnections as Daniel was.
Through the employability services run by CDT we recognise the frustration of those whose literacy or computer skills or lack of credit for the phone make jumping through the hoops very difficult. We try to treat folk as partners, not as clients or customers. We start where folks are and help them make what choices they have, and advocate for them if necessary. Ours is a tiny project. Our target for 2016/17 was engagement with 400 people and 75 into employment. By the end of February 2017 we had worked with 395 folk and 74 had found employment. Each one of these statistics matters, however. Every individual is a human being, like Daniel Blake, to be treated with respect.
But we are tackling the symptoms and not the root causes of poverty. Many have found the solutions offered by mainstream political parties wanting. Many in the church use their energy in other causes, but as citizens of God’s kingdom what more can we do to tackle the roots of poverty?