Someone has put barbed wire around the Welfare State with a message that says ‘Keep Out’

Ken Loaches’ latest film I, Daniel picked Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival a week or so ago, 50 years on from Cathy Come Home.

I-Daniel-BlakeThe plot if I, Daniel will be familiar to anyone working in advice services.  Daniel Blake is a 59-year-old joiner in the North-East of England who falls ill with heart disease and so applies for the out-of-work sickness benefit Employment and Support Allowance. While he endeavours to overcome the red tape involved in getting this assistance, he meets single mother Katie and her two children, Dylan and Daisy, who, in order to escape a homeless persons’ hostel in London, must take up residence in a flat 300 miles (480 km) away.

Speaking to a colleague last week, we wondered whether if Cathy was aired today would it get the same reaction as it did in 1966: 12 million viewers, public outrage, and apparently callers crashing the BBC telephone lines with so many calls.

I guess the people who were so outraged in 1966 are now in their 70’s and 80’s. I wasn’t in England, and far too young, so did not see that outrage.  I did not see the overwhelming public disgust at the disinterest from government departments and the callous treatment of people who were losing their homes or living in poor housing.

How did we lose all that outrage? How did we let things slip back to 50 years?

We still have poor housing, we have Members of Parliament, many landlords themselves, defeating a Bill in parliament that could have a made a difference to standards in the private rented sector.

We still have social services departments telling homeless people “We’ll take your children into care” because of poor housing or homelessness.

We have homelessness on ever increasing numbers.

How is it that the public is more concerned about Britain’s Got Talent? How is it that the media is obsessed about in-fighting in the major political parties and, with a few notable exceptions, ignore the decline of the Welfare State?  How is it that government departments can ignore what government must surely be there to do – look after the weakest and make sure that there are basic standards of decency? Why do they not see what my colleagues in BHT see on a daily basis? Why is there no outrage?

Will I, Daniel have the impact that Cathy did? Some of the jurors at Cannes described I, Daniel as showing the “barbed wire of bureaucracy in the DWP”. Exactly the right words to describe it – a barrier around the safety net, a barrier that seems designed to inflict pain and suffering.  How can a safety net make people wait six weeks or more without money for food, money for gas, electricity, rent?

The barbed wire has encircled the safety net that is the Welfare State. It is the barbed wire that is driving people further into deprivation, debt, rent arrears.  It is the barbed wire around the safety net that will drive people to loan sharks, and worse.

The barbed wire has a simple message: ‘Keep Out’.

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