Ken Loach’s film doesn’t ‘ring true’ to a man who has never been on benefits

November 5, 2016
Toby Young, whose Daily Mail column said Loach's film 'didn't ring true'.

Veteran socialist filmmaker Ken Loach’s new film I, Daniel Blake, tells the story of two people trying to survive under Britain’s increasingly cruel welfare system.

Many conservatives have claimed the film presents a “romanticised” view of the poor and that the harsh realities it depict are exaggerated — despite a large number of real-life examples similar to those features in Loach’s film. Below, comedian Mark Steel responds to Daily Mail columnist Toby Young, who said the film “didn’t ring true”. It first appeared at The Independent.

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There’s a trick we play on ourselves in which we pretend that people who are struggling are fine really, so we shouldn’t feel too bad. Experts at this game will pass a beggar and say “I wouldn’t worry, he’s got a castle round the corner. I think he’s the Viscount of Northumberland.”

If they pass one with no legs they’ll say: “He’s got loads of legs at home. He’s half crab. Don’t fall for that old trick.”

It’s exciting when someone takes this art to a new level, and the columnist/bloke-who-pops-up-on-telly Toby Young has put in a magnificent effort in the Daily Mail with a review of the Ken Loach film I, Daniel Blake

This is a story of a man who had a heart attack but is denied disability benefit, and was made following studies of hundreds of cases. But Young isn’t intimidated by that. He derides it as inaccurate liberal nonsense, because “the two protagonists are a far cry from the scroungers on Channel 4’s Benefits Street”.

Exactly. It’s the same reason we shouldn’t take any notice of David Attenborough, with his misleading films about orangutans; the ones he shows are a far cry from the ones in The Jungle Book that want to kidnap a child and learn to make fire.

He outlined his qualifications even further by saying, “I’m no expert but several aspects of I, Daniel Blake, don’t ring true.” This is why he’s quite reasonably become a spokesperson for Conservative ideas: he accepts he knows nothing about what happens on welfare, but isn’t afraid to insist he knows more about it than someone who spends their whole life in it, because he thought “that doesn’t ring true” while looking out of the window.

There should be a program called “Toby Young Rings True”, in which, to get to the truth, he ignores people who’ve done things. “Tonight I’ll be talking about sailing round the world while telling Ellen MacArthur she’s full of shit, as she’s only done it a couple of times, whereas I thought about it once while having a shave.

“Next week I’ll be telling Dizzee Rascal and Raheem Sterling what it’s like to be black in modern Britain.”

He goes on to complain the film is “unremittingly depressing”, which is a shame because job centres are usually known for pastel shades and sing-alongs. Claimants gather round the piano for a medley of Madness’s greatest hits, and anyone who’s a bit puffed out after “Baggy Trousers” is given a mobility scooter.

So Loach should have made a feel-good film about a man rejected for disability benefit, in which he falls in love with his dialysis machine and the two of them go and live by the seaside renting out canoes and never sponging off the taxpayer again.

Even so, reviewer Mark Kermode said the film has as many laughs in the opening scene as some comedies do throughout — but he’s the country’s foremost film reviewer, so don’t take any notice of him. I’ve never reviewed a film and not seen it yet, so I’m more qualified to say how miserable it is.

Young complains: “Would a middle-aged man who’s just had a massive heart attack really be declared ‘fit for work’?”

He could, if he wanted to spoil his credentials as not being an expert, look up cases such as that of Paul Turner, who was found fit for work after a massive heart attack and died a month later. But although that’s a true story, it must be made up if it doesn’t ring true.

In fact, there are 2400 cases of people who have died in the year after being declared fit for work, which shows how fair these tests are, because there are plenty of jobs for corpses. They can act as speed bumps in built-up areas or serve as maypoles in village fairs, but instead they choose to rot away at the taxpayer’s expense.

The company that carried out the tests, Atos, were despised by the disabled, but that’s because these claimants took notice of their own reality rather than what a Conservative commentator thought rang true, which just goes to show it’s the left that makes people miserable. 

One woman told me she was terrified one weekend because the postman left a note saying she had a recorded delivery letter and she knew the notice informing people their benefits had been stopped always came by recorded delivery. But now I’ve read Toby Young’s analysis based on watching Benefits Street, it’s clear this woman was making it up. How could I have been so easily fooled?

The film, he grumbles, is “absurdly romantic” because the main character — despite being on benefits — is “never seen drinking, smoking or gambling”. That’s the problem with politically correct portrayals of the working class, they don’t show the reality of them drinking foaming beer while singing sea shanties and screaming “woooooor” at a buxom wench while exchanging their kids for a scratch card.

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