|#WeAreAllDanielBlake – “I am Spartacus and he is a mad Scotch bloke!”|
The film accurately portrays the workings of a system that’s compartmentalised, so decision makers have no interaction with those whose cases they adjudicate. They have no discretion, only data in the form of ticked boxes. At a work capability assessment, I’m asked, “can you walk a hundred metres unaided.” My answer is, “yes, but…” But there is no space on the form for, ‘but,’ so no mobility allowance for yours truly.
It’s also deadly in their pass/agg. use of scrupulously polite language. They refer to you as, ‘Mr,’ while talking to you as if you’re a child. As his neighbour, China, tells him, “Dan, they will fuck you around, I’m warning you. Make it as miserable as possible. No accident: that’s the plan. I know dozens who have just given up.”
Daniel is a carpenter, the kind of tradesman I admired while working with my hands, but “dyslexic when it comes to computers.” I am fairly literate, if not quite a code wrangler. I did learn .html, twenty years ago, in order to compose rudimentary web pages like those that survive in Pot Culture and my archived food blog, Gastropod. But when web design moved on, to forms and php, I did not follow. Instead, I mostly did manual jobs which left my mind free for other considerations. I did not anticipate being maimed.
Daniel scored 12 in his assessment, three short of qualification. I scored zero in early 2013, meaning that there’s absolutely no physical impediment to my working full time, despite losing my left hand less than two years previously. I still have the right one, after all. I can sit at a desk, even if I can’t stand on my reconstructed foot for too long. My benefits advisor, bless him, suggested that I appeal. Naively, I told him I couldn’t see the point. It’s not as though the discrepancy in my case was marginal.
“In that case,” he told me, “our conversation is over and you’ll be meeting my colleague, who administrates the JSA.” Our convo. had reached the point where we had agreed that I should refresh my qualifications, perhaps as a proofreader. I had identified an online course that cost a few hundred quid and might take me six weeks to complete. “Forget it,” said my new advisor. “We haven’t got a few hundred quid to spare, unless paid work is guaranteed, and you haven’t got six weeks. You need to start applying for jobs straight away.”
My dealings with these two chaps were cordial. Both are old school, around my age, with careers in the DWP that stretch back to the halcyon days of the DHSS. Neither was happy with the way things were going. “I’m not here to find you a job,” the first told me, exasperated. “My task is to ensure that the incumbent Minister doesn’t look too incompetent, however unworkable his new rules might seem.”
More than a month after being struck off ESA, I saw him in the street. He asked how it was going. It was awful, applying for jobs as an under-qualified fifty something with a sketchy work history. “I did try to warn you,” he said. “If you’d appealed, we would have had a few months to work something out. Still, perhaps you can get back on the sickness benefit on other grounds?” Such as? “You might be depressed,” he suggested. “Nobody could be surprised, after all you’ve been through, if you were.” Looking me in the eye, he added, “and nobody can prove that you’re not!”
Daniel Blake describes himself as, “a sick man looking for non-existent jobs that I can’t take anyway. I’m just wasting my time, the employers’ time, your time. And all it does is humiliate me. Grind me down to the point where you can get my name off those computers.” Hashtag, WeAreAllDanielBlake.
Spoiler alert: Daniel’s heart attacks him, finally, right before his appeal is to be heard. Whatever comes or goes, that won’t be my story. I may be damaged, but I am not frail. If what does not kill you makes you stronger, I am superhuman.