Last night, I had the very real privilege of seeing a screening of I, Daniel Blake, with a Q&A with Ken Loach and Dave Johns.
I sat and watched the story with great apprehension, and as it progressed, I didn’t want to see what was coming next. This isn’t your average film, it won the Palm D’Or at Cannes, and is being tipped for success at the Academy Awards; it is far from an average film, but it is a story about average life. It is a story about the dehumanisation of people, and the depths that people can sink to, and it is a story that happened to me.
When I left school, I had an armful of qualifications. I carried on studying and got an ONC in Building Construction and a post graduate diploma in acoustics. I gained experience in construction design, estimating, health and safety, and project management, and worked in construction until I lost my job in 2008. Recession always hits construction first, and leaves it last. I lost three jobs in 2008, the last just before Christmas.
I was out of work for 9 months. For the first time I claimed Job Seekers Allowance, £62 a week if I recall, which I could do for 13 weeks. £806. Then it stopped. I applied for any job in construction at first, but there was nothing, so I broadened my search, only to be told I was either not suitably qualified, or was over qualified and “will only leave when the economy picks up”. They were probably right. Luckily, the bank gave us a 6 month mortgage holiday and with my wife working we managed.
With no job, I went self employed, and managed to find some consultancy work, which quickly grew into a good steady income. Unfortunately, the company that provided most of that also folded, and I was left again looking for work, no-one needed the skills I had, no-one was building anything. So in late 2010, having just had a baby, and my wife being on maternity pay, we had £500 per month coming in. I had an office, with bills, and technically went to work, but with nothing to do apart from try get work and finish off the work I’d been paid for. Debt mounted rapidly. Once again, reluctantly, I applied for help from social services. We couldn’t claim anything. We were both technically working. I was working, I was self employed, but not earning.
We sold things. We borrowed from family, but without ever really divulging how dire our situation was. Would you?
By the middle of 2011 the bank had begun to put pressure on us to start clearing the debt for the mounting mortgage arrears, but we couldn’t, and they suggested we sell to keep the equity, and buy somewhere else. However, it had been 2 years since David Cameron had said “we’re all in this together” and austerity was in full swing. No-one wanted to buy our house, apart from one man who offered two thirds of the asking price, which we declined. Its’ value continued to fall, and the debts continued to rise. I went to Citizen’s Advice to see if there was anything they could advise. They offered us a meeting with a council association called CHAS who provided housing aid. We attended a meeting, and they said they would consider us for an emergency loan to cover our mortgage and council tax payments. They went through all our income and expenditure, and our debts. We had been in contact with our debtors already, to explain, but we had to do it again, to meet CHAS’ criteria, but we told they could help, that people like us were who they were there for. It was the most demoralising experience of my life, but we had no choice. As we left, I knew this was our last hope, but they said they could help.
They refused the application.
In October 2011, driving through town, a young lad drove into my car, in front of two police officers. The police officers waved him into an adjacent car park, where he promptly pulled up in the middle of the cark park where you drive between the cars, and he promptly opened his door onto a passing Audi. Poor kid. He’d only just passed his test. Audi lady was raging, but they normally are. My car was written off, and his insurance paid out instantly, two coppers had seen him do it. That paid for Christmas, but it was too late for the house. The bank had given us a month to leave. I had no plan. No way out, I didn’t know what to do. I’d spent the last three years constantly fighting to get out of debt, at times seeing the that “end of tunnel” light. I’d borrowed off family, but I wasn’t asking again, it wasn’t me, and it wasn’t fair. Some of them made us big pots of food to freeze so we didn’t have to buy anything. We had a tiny baby who I couldn’t provide a home for, and I had a teenage daughter who came at weekends and sat as we had no money to go out, and watched me slide into a level of depression I really don’t want to think about again. I’d never suffered from depression before, but I felt like I had nothing more to offer. I couldn’t believe how I had come to be in this position. I couldn’t get my head around the fact that I left school full of hopes and dreams, and I was on the verge of losing absolutely everything, and why I wasn’t being helped by the system I had paid into for 20 years.
*Cue music changing to major chords*
Luckily I had an amazing wife, a fine family, and some good friends. I’ve forgotten a lot of what my wife did for me, what she said during all that time, and while this may seem irresponsible, with just three days until eviction day, she gave me £20 from the family allowance and told me to go to the pub. It was pool night. I love playing pool, and I hadn’t been for ages. By incredible coincidence, I bumped into an old colleague, Jayne, a lovely girl I hadn’t seen in several years. She lived in Huddersfield last time I knew, so asked what she was doing in my local. She had just been to see her sister who had just moved in up the road, and was with her boyfriend, who wanted to watch the football; his team Everton were playing, and this was the nearest pub that had the football on. Her boyfriend had a company that needed an estimator. It gave me chance to contact the bank, and plead for another fortnight. They agreed. Jayne’s boyfriend gave me a job. I don’t know why the angels shone on me that day by making them to go my local, but shine on me they did. That said, the angels had shat on me for three years, so they can fuck off, and I’ll thank Everton and Jayne and her boyfriend instead. I don’t think they know just how much they helped me.
I forget how long it took to clear all our debts, but we did. It aged me, it was hard, and it made me value what is important, and what is dear.
And it changed me. It made me begin to question what the hell are these people in charge of our country doing? If we, at our most desperate, could be kicked out of our home, with absolutely no help whatsoever, other than that £800, who ARE they helping?
They are helping themselves.
I’d always had an interest in politics, but it was an ignorant interest of just how much it can affect people, until it happened to me, and for that, I feel truly ashamed and guilty.
It wasn’t until I was at my most destitute, that I began to listen to what the government was saying, and this government, are bastards. Being a Tory party member isn’t a job, they don’t do anything. Show me a tory that can fix a car, fit a kitchen, build a bookcase, estimate a house, write software, have three jobs to make ends meet, and I’ll show you a hundred that were born into money and who are going to fuck about with the system to make us all jump, to make themselves look busy so they have a reason to be, a reason to do fuck all and get paid for it, all the time claiming they are doing it for you.
I don’t know what they do. Do you?
They’ve sold everything. Where has that money gone? Have you got it? I fucking haven’t. They sold all the utilities companies in the 80s saying we’d all benefit from more competition between suppliers. How’s that worked out? I bet Stephen Hawking has been with the same gas supplier for 10 years because it’s nigh on impossible to work out which energy supplier is shafting us the least. I bet those shareholders don’t have to worry about putting the heating on this winter. I wonder who they’ll vote for. We’re getting a new power plant, owned by the French and Chinese. Why? Can’t a British company build it? No? Why? WHY?
Why did they sell off the Post Office for far less than it was worth? That share price shot up on the first day didn’t it. Why did they do that? Sorry, you’ll have to speak up, KERCHING, I can’t here you over the sound of KERCHING all those rich people selling their shares making 50% profit in a day for doing fuck all KERCHING KERCHING KERCHING. I wonder who they vote for.
This isn’t about me having a go at people being successful, good for them, honest, but it’s about how this government is playing us all off. They don’t care about us, they care about making sure they can make a handsome living for doing absolutely nothing.
They’ve turned us on each other. This was a key point in the Q&A last night. The fucking teachers are on strike, the fucking doctors. It doesn’t matter they work 65 hours a week, we pay their wages. The nerve of them. The people that save our lives and look after our kids with more patience than many of us do, are the enemy. What’s that? A multinational company doesn’t pay any tax? I don’t care, THE FUCKING TEACHERS ARE ON STRIKE.
I’m no “lefty loony” as they are affectionately known. I voted for Charles Kennedy. He spoke sense. I voted for Nick Clegg, he did too. It wasn’t him that put tuition fees up, it was the Tories. He couldn’t have stopped it, he’d have been outvoted. That debt students are accruing? Never get paid, just a way to keep us all owing.
I just believe in humility. I don’t like politics, to be honest, most of them get right on my tits, but we need to wake up, like I did, when it happened to me. Not everyone has someone, I was lucky, some people are facing hardship alone, suffering at the hands of these self serving parasites.
I urge you to watch I, Daniel Blake, not only because it is quite superb, but it will make you think, and because it can happen to any of us. It happened to me.