Veteran filmmaker Ken Loach’s latest work, I, Daniel Blake, is said to be the kind of film that will make you angry - angry about the way in which those forgotten by society, those unable to work, those who need assistance from the state to get by are treated, the manner in which benefits are assessed, and often taken away, and the grinding poverty that stalks those on the bottom rung of the ladder.
Today, though, there is another item related to Loach’s film that should make anyone who cares about decent journalism, who gives a damn about others, or who lives in the realisation that they could be the next one to fall down the benefits hole, yet more angry. And that is a crude, un-researched and mean-spirited hatchet job on the film by the loathsome Toby Young, who should hang his head in shame, but won’t.
Tobes has secured a juicy paycheque from the Daily Mail for obediently demonising Loach and his film, and the headline, “Why only Lefties could go misty eyed at a movie that romanticises Benefits Britain”, tells you all you need to know about what is to come. Young kicks off with “The audience watches as a disabled man is being given a Work Capability Assessment in a Newcastle Jobcentre … He is the eponymous character in I, Daniel Blake, the latest film by Left-wing director Ken Loach. Needless to say, his experience is portrayed as brutal and degrading”. Because brutal and degrading is what it is, Tobes.
But do go on. “To make matters worse, the ‘healthcare professional’ who cross-examines Daniel is an employee of - you guessed it - an American private company … Typical Tories, eh? Not only do they force the disabled to go through a humiliating test to see if they’re fit for work, they outsource the administration of it to an evil capitalist corporation!”
The level of inspiration rarely rises above this metropolitan sneer, as witness “Inevitably, the Left-wing Press has taken the film to its heart. The Guardian”. Please nice Mr Dacre, let me slag off the Guardian in your nice paper! It’s for a good cause! There is also a swipe at “Veteran socialist Loach”, which as any fule kno disqualifies him from having an opinion.
But what will make many angry about Tobes’ smear job is that he is not only totally out of touch with how many at the foot of the tree are treated by society, he also can’t bother himself with the most elementary fact check. All readers get is “I’m no expert on the welfare system, but several aspects of I, Daniel Blake don’t ring true … The two protagonists are a far cry from the scroungers on Channel 4’s Benefits Street, who I accept aren’t representative of all welfare recipients”.
Benefits Street. That’s the sum total of Toby Young’s research, which now qualifies him to pontificate on Ken Loach’s film. The same Toby Young who brags that his driveway is lit by carriage lights, tells the world he’s got a £3,000 fridge freezer, and who manipulated the last Government into bunging him £25 million so he didn’t have to pay school fees.
Toby Young wants to sneer about those whose lives are royally screwed, and not even bother himself dirtying his hands with inconvenient research - unlike Loach. As writer and campaigner Jack Monroe, who knows a thing or two about the less than joyful experience of existing as a benefit claimant, has told, “Loach and the film’s screenwriter, Paul Laverty, travelled the country, meeting people, listening to stories, taking notes, visiting food banks. The extras in the heart-wrecking scene in the food bank were genuine clients, paid for their time in Morrisons food vouchers”. Not that Tobes wants to hear that, of course.
Instead, he just carries on with that metropolitan sneer: “Daniel is a model citizen. At no point do we see him drinking, smoking, gambling, or even watching television. No, he is a welfare claimant as imagined by a member of the upper-middle class metropolitan elite”. HE CAN’T AFFORD ANY OF THAT. Tobes is that stupid - and up his own arse.
If we’re talking upper-middle class metropolitan elite, Toby Young is typical of it. He knows nothing about the worst-off, and so airily opines “Daniel’s experience of trying to claim Employment and Support Allowance is also a little implausible”. How the fuck do you know, Tobes? You didn’t bother doing any research, remember?
Instead, all he can muster is “Would a middle-aged man who’s just had a massive heart attack really be declared ‘fit for work’ by the Department for Work and Pensions? Or is it the fault of the evil American corporation that conducts the tests for a multi-million-pound contract?” WHY DON’T YOU GET OFF YOUR ARSE AND FIND OUT?
The only time Tobes goes near factual analysis is when he asserts “In fact, when the test was introduced in 2013 by the then Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, roughly a million people decided to come off the Employment and Support Allowance rather than go through the assessment”. BUT THAT CLAIM WAS NOT TRUE.
As the Guardian - terrible, eh Tobes, a paper that does factual analysis and research, rather than just slagging off the less fortunate - told at the time, “Duncan Smith is employing a linguistic sleight of hand. He says he is only counting those on working-age benefits who are ‘judged capable of preparing or looking for work’. But almost everyone's capable of preparing for work”. That the best Tobes can muster.
Would the single mother in the film be unable to afford school shoes for her daughter? “Hardly. A single mother with two children typically gets more than £200 a week in state hand-outs and her rent would normally be covered by housing benefit. School shoes from Tesco cost around £10”. Tobes knows more than Ken Loach, so there.
in any case, even if the film is accurate, Tobes has an answer for that too: “welfare cuts introduced by the Coalition government were wildly popular with the majority of the British public … A Populus poll in 2015, on the eve of the last General Election, found that only 25 per cent of the public share Loach’s view that abuse of the benefit system has been overstated”. So it didn’t really happen and Tobes is right.
I, Daniel Blake has been extensively researched. It is an accurate portrayal of what it is like to experience the benefits system nowadays. But for the Daily Mail, it is too uncomfortable an experience to let pass without having someone rubbish it. So they get a useful idiot like Toby Young to sneer at the less well off - for a fat paycheque.
I used to think that Tobes was a mere buffoon, worthy of Graham Linehan’s description “Westminster’s village idiot”. That was to trivialise someone who is clearly out of touch with reality, insulated from ordinary people, cocooned in his elite metropolitan bubble, and an utterly uncaring, unfeeling, complete and absolute shit with it.
Toby Young is not fit to clean Ken Loach’s shoes. He is the lowest of the low.