“I couldn’t afford apples for my children”: Newcastle mum’s real life struggle as Ken Loach’s ‘I, Daniel Blake’ hits cinemas

 

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Credit: Alice Hewson

Ken Loach’s ‘I, Daniel Blake’ was released in cinemas on Friday October 21 and has touched the hearts of the nation.

The film’s ambition is to make those seemingly hidden from society, visible and to provide them with a voice, that challenges the government’s unfair benefit sanctions and the hoops that many are forced to jump through to meet medical assessments.

The film tells the hugely personal and emotive story of Daniel, who’s story is one of courage, community spirit, determination, whilst also being at the heart of poverty.

It documents how the system is deeply unfair, and plays with peoples lives – leaving many unable to put food on the table, risking their physical and mental health, or even facing the choice of heating their home or providing a hot meal for their family. It’s a choice that no-one should have to make.

Running in parallel to the release of the ‘I, Daniel Blake’ film, communities in Blaydon have come together to protest against the issues raised in the film. With the #rethinksanctions, and support of local Deacon, Tracy Hume, the community has drawn the attention of the public and local media.

Local councillors, members of the church and those who were affected by sanctions were handcuffed to the railings of a local church. Horns were sounded in solidarity as people drove past, locals stopped by to offer gifts of chocolates and baked goods were passed around to those in attendance – an example of communities really coming together.

The film opens with the voice of actor David Johns (who plays Daniel) answering questions from a ‘healthcare professional’ after being told that he cannot work following a major heart attack, forcing him to apply for Employment and Support Allowance.

‘Can you walk 50 metres.’ ‘Yes.’

‘Can you raise either arm as to put something in your top pocket?’

‘Can we talk about my heart now? My fingers work fine.’

The interviewer continues.

‘Can I ask you a question? Are you medically qualified?’ Daniel replies.

This humour created at the start continues throughout the film, captivating the audience and bringing them close to the hardship that Daniel, his companion Katie and many others face. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed and cried so much at the cinema throughout one film.

In Blaydon, I met mother of two, Sonia Fradgley-Thompson who spoke of how her Employment and Support Allowance was sanctioned for four months, of her struggle to feed her two small children and the embarrassment she faced at her reliance on the food bank.

She said: “If it wasn’t for the food bank I don’t know where I’d be. I felt so ashamed and embarrassed.’

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Sonia Fradgley-Thompson

She has two apples with her –  representing her two children and the hardship she went through.

After six weeks of having nothing to live on, her four year old daughter asked: “Mam I would really like an apple.”

She was unable to meet this request and at times was close to stealing from a local fruit and veg shop just so she could meet her children’s basic needs.

She desperately wanted to provide what a mother should for her children.

The foodbank became a lifeline and as in ‘I, Daniel Blake’, we see a relationship blossom between single mother of two, Katie and Daniel.

His skills as a carpenter are put into use making her house a home. During one of the most memorable scenes, he supports her to visit the foodbank.

She collapses due to exhaustion and lack of food, as she desperately tries to feed herself a tin of beans. ‘I’m just so hungry,’ she says. A scene all to familiar to so many people.

Back in Blaydon, Sonia was forced to go to a tribunal to asses her fitness to work and to challenge her sanctions.

Deacon for Blaydon Trinity Methodist Church, Tracey Hume, said: “They’ll take all your money away and then they’ll decide if it was right or not. That’s not a fair system, it’s not even our legal system. I couldn’t watch this anymore, so I decided to do something about it and organised people to come out today.”

The Department for Work and Pensions were contacted about the statement from Deacon Hume but declined to comment.

With support from the foodbank, and Tracey, Sonia’s case went to appeal. On meeting the judge who said she shouldn’t have even been there, she was signed off not to be touched by sanctions until 2017.

As soon as her money came in, she was able to buy apples for her young children, buying so many she struggled to carry them home.

‘It was amazing to be able to feed my kids with fresh fruit and veg again,’ said Sonia.

‘I, Daniel Blake’ has undoubtedly got people talking, to question what is moral, and speaks out for those who had previously been forced into silence.

A film carefully crafted and deeply personal – moving the audience to both laughter and tears, Ken Loach effectively conveys the journey that many have to go through, like Sonia’s in Blaydon, to be able to put food on the table and to live rather than just survive.

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