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'I, Daniel Blake' accurately portrays what we see in our consulting rooms

Letter from Dr Margaret Craig, Glasgow, who advised the film's screenwriter

Screenwriter Paul Laverty phoned to tell me his idea for the film ’I, Daniel Blake’. He wanted a GP’s view of the stories he had already heard. I told him about a patient of mine whose experience mirrored what Paul described.

Let’s not spoil the film for anybody who has not yet seen it, so I will tell you about my patient. A heart attack in his late 50s came as a complete shock to a man who had always worked. His employer gave no sick pay, forcing him to claim benefits. Eight weeks into cardiac rehab he was assessed by the Benefits Agency as 'fit for work' and his sickness benefit was stopped. His work could not take him back as he had not yet been deemed fit by the cardiac rehab team, so he had no income whatsoever.

He was distraught, his family furious, as were his physios and consultant. As his GP, I could not believe it. He appealed but by the time the decision was overturned he had been completely demoralised, was in debt and his recovery was significantly compromised. Those who have seen the film will recognise that ‘I, Daniel Blake’, the latest film of Paul Laverty, directed by Ken Loach, tells just such a story.

Paul is an old friend and had come across my involvement with ‘GPs at the Deep End’, a group of GPs serving the most socio-economically deprived communities in Scotland. Our 2012 Austerity Report and follow-up of 2013 found that the welfare reform acts of 2007 and 2012 are detrimental to the lives and well-being of the poorest in society.

The entire benefit application process is too lengthy and confusing, and completely inappropriate for many people. The reports set out a number of recommendations to make the welfare system fairer, simpler, and easier to navigate. Central to this is the need for a radical overhaul of the Work Capability Assessment, which is not fit for purpose.

In our consulting rooms, we share the range of feelings experienced by many patients who are struggling with this system - first outrage, soon followed by cynicism then finally resignation and defeat. Ken Loach and Paul Laverty stick with the outrage, explore it and show all of us our responsibility. We are left disturbed, with the need to work out what we can do to fight this iniquitous system.

This brilliant and upsetting film ‘I, Daniel Blake’ demonstrates clearly the impact of removing the minimum benefits that should be provided in a just society. That safety net was the founding vision of the welfare state, echoing Mahatma Gandhi’s assertion that 'the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable'.

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Readers' comments (6)

  • I haven't seen the film yet but I aim to do so.
    Also recognise the type of portrait being painted, and sadly not too infrequently.
    The assessment system is not broken, it just never worked in the firat place and it is an embarrassing stain on a first world country.
    Still- it seems Thatcher would have been proud of it.

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  • Although I had already read comments from people saying the film was so true to life, I was still shocked to hear so many crib-sheet lines from JC+ workers that I had heard quoted by patients so very often. The film really was like the stories I hear in real life.
    I think the most common comment I hear is how humiliating patients find the whole ordeal, patients of all backgrounds and walks of life. And they all feel it is deliberate, to grind them down in to backing off and giving up

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  • I have seen the film - very accurate and moving in my opinion.

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  • This report links to a report about patients forging their own sick notes. Since having a sick not does not appear to make any difference to the DHSS now it has abandoned using doctors to assess claims for sickness benefit and is using unqualified staff to assess ability to work who can obviously make more mistakes than doctors can, I would suggest that it is either waste of time writing sick notes or that the patient should write their own because the DHSS do not appear to appreciate the difference between the genuine and the forged so why bother?

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  • Margaret Blake must be wearing a very powerful pair of reality-altering spectacles. Thirty years in inner city Birmingham tells me this film is a distortion, presumably politically motivated.

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  • I thought the situation he was in is very common.
    It could have been made more realistic by making him even iller but deemed fit for work.
    An added factor could have been the real life issues of GP referals being turned down by referral managers and hospital follow up appointments being not sent out.
    may have come over as too far getched rather than being more realistic.

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