The main character in Ken Loach’s latest film, I, Daniel Blake, instantly creates a connection with the audience because his experiences are those that anyone could go through — or anyone’s father or grandfather. The film follows a 59-year-old carpenter (played by actor and comedian Dave Johns) as he attempts to enroll in a UK welfare program. After suffering a heart attack, the man, through a doctor’s diagnosis, is deemed unable to work. Welfare officials, however, insist that he is fit and able, and that he should return to work.
Technologically inept and somewhat stubborn, Daniel Blake is forced to go through an appeals process, which consists of learning computer programs and navigating online portals. His real struggles throughout the film to understand the Web are struggles that many older folks, not only in the UK but across the globe, are familiar with.
Loach, working with Paul Laverty’s screenplay, has several films in his 50-year repertoire that examine social issues. Early in his career, he also made documentaries — a style that can still be felt in I, Daniel Blake, which won the 2016 Palme d’Or, the highest prize at Cannes, and was released in US two months ago. Perhaps there was no better timing for the film to arrive — at the height of the healthcare debate. A key campaign promise of President Trump remains to repeal, or to repeal and replace, the Affordable Care Act; one can only imagine what might become of expanded Medicaid, which provides health insurance to those who are poor or unemployed. Those who are similar in situation, in other words, to the one that Daniel Blake found himself in.
Fact: President Obama’s hallmark legislation has provided health insurance to an estimated 20 million Americans who previously went without it. That did not stop the Trump administration and the Republican-led Congress from beginning to talk about dismantling the ACA immediately after the election. Disagreement quickly arose, of course, over whether the ACA should be repealed before a replacement was established, a debate that continued steadily until the “skinny repeal” of the legislation was shot down by Sen. John McCain’s thumbs-down vote in late July. Before the bill was shot down, however, Trump held a news conference and brought with him people who said that Obamacare had adversely affected them. Most of the people said Obamacare limited their health provider options and raised costs and premiums for their families. The media reported that the repeal of the ACA would harm rural Americans the most — the same people that swung the hardest for Trump last November.
Last March, in an article on one particular healthcare plan created within the House of Representatives, The New York Times reported that “voters who would be eligible for a tax credit that would be at least $1,000 smaller than the subsidy they’re eligible for under Obamacare” supported Trump over Hillary Clinton by a seven-point margin. And the voters who would be hit hardest by that plan — those eligible for at least $5,000 less in tax credits — supported Mr. Trump by a margin of 59 percent to 36 percent,” the Times reported, citing analysis from the Kaiser Family Health Foundation and Cooperative Congressional Election Study.
Daniel Blake is a laborer. He struggles financially. The hoops he must jump through to obtain benefits could make anyone in the US, left-leaning or right-leaning, ponder the effects of a major adjustment to healthcare. At one point in the film, Blake’s friend gives him a tongue-in-cheek warning that the appeals process he is trudging through to get benefits may be designed so that people finally give up out of pure confusion and frustration.
Loach said basically the same thing to the BBC last year:
The state is knowingly inefficient or cruel, knowing that people will be driven to frustration, despair, hunger and possible suicide.
“Well, they’ve picked the wrong one if they think I’m gonna give up,” Blake responds. “I’m like a dog with a bone, me son.”
But not everyone is Daniel Blake.