Podcast and Annotated Transcript: I Daniel Blake – The Benefit Cuts Debate with Jeane Freeman MSP Social Security Minister, Paul Laverty Screenwriter, and others
“I am not a client, a customer nor a service user. I am not a shirker, a scrounger, a beggar nor a thief. I am not a national insurance number, or blip on a screen. I have paid my dues, never a penny short, and proud to do so. I don’t tug the forelock, but look my neighbour in the eye and help him if I can. I don’t accept or seek charity. My name is Daniel Blake, I am a man, not a dog. As such, I demand my rights. I demand you treat me with respect. I Daniel Blake am a citizen, nothing more and nothing less. Thank you”
…This is a statement made by Daniel Blake in the film. This is what the whole debate is about. This is a podcast and annotated transcript of the discussion of benefits cuts with Jeane Freeman MSP, Paul Laverty, Mike Vallance, Bill Scott and Lewis Akers.
It starts with Sasha Callaghan from Disability History Scotland (www.disabilityhistoryscotland.co.uk) saying that she has seen Ken Loach’s film ‘I Daniel Blake’ twice, and that she could not help but cry both times. She is to chair a cinema hall filled with around 300 people in Edinburgh’s Fountain park, where a free screening was organised to discuss the cuts to benefits across the UK.
It is a large cinema hall and set out in front of the giant screen are a series of chairs in which a panel sits after the screening. You can listen to the uncut audio recording below, as I went along to listen and document the conversation with a particular interest as to the account of the government position around the sweeping and unforgiving benefit cuts.
Sasha Callaghan continues by saying: “What we have seen today is probably one of the most important films in many many years, thank you all for being here to witness something so important”. Ken Loach (@KenLoachSixteen) is an English film and television director known for his critical directing style and for his social ideals.
Most famously he made Cathy Come Home released in 1966 which deals with issues of poverty and homelessness. In his long and esteemed career he has made huge contributions to cinema, sociological discussion and people’s basic human dignities.
Jeane Freeman MSP: Minister for Social Security
Sasha Callaghan introduces the first of the panel, Jeane Freeman MSP who She has been the Minister for Social Security in Scotland since May 2016 is talking on behalf of the Scottish government.
0 minutes 52 seconds: “Thank you very much Sasha. I am not sure quite where to start here with this because I suspect – like everybody in this audience – I found that both deeply moving but also something that makes me very angry because what we saw there are lives destroyed…
…and the really important thing for me in all of that film is actually what was written by Daniel at the end, where he spoke about how he had worked hard his whole life – paid his dues, not a penny more and not a penny less – and he wanted to be treated with respect.
Because in essence, that is the contract between the politicians you elect as your government and you as citizens. That the contract is that you will play your part and government shall play its part in return. And what we have is a UK government that sees our social security system or welfare – as they choose to call it, as that’s what suits them – as an easy route for cuts.
Somebody from the crowd shouts: “What bollocks, the Scottish Government does the same”…
Jeane Freeman MSP, responds and continues: “I don’t believe that is true Sir….and that social security system here is run by the UK government. At the minute every single benefit that people receive or entitled to or have to fight their way to get in Scotland is delivered by the UK government.
Now shortly the Scottish government will have the equivalent of 15% of the UK spend to set up a social security system in Scotland. And we have said from the outset two things; that our social security system will not be the source of saving money or making cuts, and it will be based on dignity, fairness and respect.
We have got the opportunity in Scotland to build a system that we can be proud of and that is worthy of its name. What we cant do is fix everything that is wrong with the UK system, because we don’t have the powers to do that. We wont have the powers over the Employment and Support Allowance, which only last week Westminster voted not to cut, but the Tory government will cut.
We don’t have the power to stop a benefit cap, which they are reducing even more at Westminster, but we cant change that in Scotland. And we don’t have the power to change Universal Credit either but we do have the powers to make a difference to Disability Benefits, to Carers Allowance, and to others.
And particularly the power to change how people are treated. So ours will be a social security system where we believe it is an investment each one of us make in ourselves and in each other. And it will be based from start to finish on dignity, fairness and respect.
I have just spent three months listening to people like Daniel and others up and down the country tell me their stories and their experience. And you might not believe it, but every single one of those conversations will stay with me right through the building of our social security system.
And they will stay with me because I believe absolutely that the way we do this is that we do this from the ground up. And that’s why in January we will start a recruitment drive for 2000 volunteers – people who are themselves are in receipt of those eleven benefits to come and join us, and work with us to build that new system in Scotland.
To make sure that it is not just fine words about dignity, fairness and respect; it actually lives it. In how it treats people, and how quickly decisions are made, and who you get to speak to in the way that it communicates, and in the transparency of the decisions that are made.
Some of those changes we saw the desperate need for them in that film, but more importantly, many of those changes, people count on receipt of those benefits told me about. So we will not have a system in Scotland that looks to stigmatise and belittle and demean people, because there is no dignity in that…
And there is no-one in this cinema today who doesn’t know the day that they might, like me, look to a social security system for the help and support that we need. It is basic, it is part of our contract between government and people who have elected us, and I am determined that the one we will build in Scotland – albeit only on eleven benefits…
And we cant fix everything that is wrong with the UK system but we will show that that system can be better, can be more humane, and can be based on the fact that those who come to it are entitled to our collective support and help.
So I hope that many of the people who are here today, who may be on one of those eleven benefits, will look out for that recruitment exercise, will join us, and help us over the next few years build a social security system that we can be proud of.
And one that treats people as we would want to be treated ourselves as fellow citizens and as fellow human beings. Thank you.”
Paul Laverty: Screenwriter of I Daniel Blake
Sasha Callaghan continues to chair… ”Can I just say that after something that is so emotional as that film, it is obvious that feelings are going to be running high and I think quite justifiably. But please, don’t intervene from the audience at this moment, we are going to have a question and answer session right after the next speaker. And that is the point to come in; if you come in before that there are people in this audience who are using the induction loop who are being completely excluded from your interventions if you are not using the mic…”
Paul Laverty (@pauljlaverty) obtained a Philosophy degree at the Gregorian University in Rome thereafter getting a law degree at Strathclyde Law School, in Glasgow. During the mid-1980s he traveled to Nicaragua and lived there for almost three years working for a Nicaraguan domestic human rights organization which provided hard evidence of human rights abuses during the war between the elected Nicaraguan Government (The Sandinistas) and the United States backed “Contras” in which the subject of human rights became highly contested. After his time in Central America Laverty made contact with director Ken Loach for whom he wrote Carla’s Song, his first screenplay, which starred Robert Carlyle.
“So next we have Paul Laverty here, script writer of this wonderful heartbreaking film. Paul, over to you…
7 minutes and 33 seconds: “Thank you, thank you very much. Ive just heard the news there on a radio program, so I must in all honesty say that Fidel Castro Rest In Peace… I just heard the BBC news report, and it is interesting to hear how stories are told and the narrative is shaped and it ended up that the BBC reporter with a very quick clip of someone screaming that he was a dictator in Miami.
It is very very interesting because I am just back from Cuba. We are going to do a project there and I have just visited the Museum of the Revolution, and of course on the BBC report….and eh, anyway, it reminded me of what happened when seventy people came across on a boat from the Granma, and they attacked the Batista Revolution.
The boat landed in Cuba, it was a total disaster. Thirty five were killed – if I remember roughly – immediately. And there were only 35 left and most of them were dispersed, and Fidel Castro was along with a few others and he said ‘I found myself as commander and chief of myself and three others.
It is a remarkable story really and we will hear nothing about the terrible misery, and the poverty that was the reality in Cuba before the revolution. I used to work as a human rights lawyer in Nicaragua too and in Central America, and we will hear nothing too about the grand abuses, the systematic torture and murder that took place there with the support of the United States.
We will hear nothing about that in these reports, and in a strange way, again it reminded me of how we tell stories to each other in the grand narrative. And how Fidel will be – and I mean, the contradictions too, of how the Stalinist tendencies was pushed in the hands of the Soviet Union, there are lots of contradictions there. But the grand narrative is really important, and it links up with this story too.
What fascinated Ken and myself when we started on this was the grand narrative. Who remembers Osborne’s “twitching curtains”, who remembers the speeches of the shirker vs the skiver ?….
…all those terrible right wing programs which demean, and made people feel vulnerable and ashamed. And I have to say, how we tell those stories is really important. Who ends up on screen, who’s voice, who’s face, who’s hands, instead of the sculpted hands and body builders with very polite accents.
So stories do matter as how we tell stories to each other, and one thing which has really moved us deeply after this film has been made is the amount of letters that were written in by so many people who have lived it. And I know many of you who have, through your friends or through your family, or yourselves.
And it is this feeling of I am not alone, I think this is really really important. We are not alone. Can I just jump quickly, because for many ways we have had our say about the film. Can I just talk about one thing.
I went along to hear Damien Green give evidence to the MSPs. That was very very interesting. Obviously he knows exactly what was going on. He knows all the stories that we know. He knows all the academic reports that state sanctions don’t help people into work , they humiliate and they frighten them.
So there is no point in trying to imagine that he does not know what is going on. The bullying inside the job centre – the PIP’s (Personal Improvement Plans) that workers are put on. All of these things – he knows it all. He did not give a single inch.
Do punitive approaches to unemployment benefit recipients increase welfare exit and employment? A cross-area analysis of UK sanctioning reforms, Sociology Working Papers Paper Number 2015-01, Rachel Loopstra, Aaron Reeves, Martin McKee, David Stuckler
….and I think that is very very interesting. If you turn it the other way around, what is it like with Damien Green coming up here when he sees that every political party bar one is against him. The grassroots are against him. The trade unions are against him. Civic society is against him. All the academic reports saying that these policies of sanctions do not work and cause misery.
But yet they are still implemented. So I think it is time now for a grand coalition to make their politics unworkable, so that our most vulnerable brothers and sisters do not have to go through what Daniel Blake and many tens of thousands of others have to do.
Now that is going to require a great amount of imagination. It is very interesting listening to Jean now because she is in a very particular position as elected representative, the rule of law and aw these things.
I remember what happened in Ireland during 1921 – 1922; they built parallel organisations to make things unworkable because what I think is happening now is that for many people know their life will be a misery – they will lose their thirty pounds, they will be assessed by Maximus, and I think that Jeane and her colleagues genuinely will try their very very best to undermine it, but it will still be in place.
It is very interesting too that the MSPs – Damien Green was asked by one MSP “will you apologise for the sanctions regime” (www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-37863161). Of course, he didn’t, but the question is not will he apologise, the question is how do we change the sanctions regime. How do we challenge that per se.
So I think we have to ask much more radical questions, I think that we have to ask ourselves why are we so obedient. I think we have to imagine ways that we can give wind to the back of our politicians so that they feel pushed by the logic, by the humanity, by the decency to challenge the legalism (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberal_legalism) so we can make this whole system unworkable.
Now that is very easy to say for a screenwriter to say, it is just imagined, it has to be done. It is going to take great creativity by the activists, by the politicians; it will take great creativity, it will take great energy, it will take great rigor. But I think that we cannot wait for them just to change their minds or change – because they just will not.
And we will have to give wind to the back of our politicians, people like Jeane who really do want to change it. But they have to be pushed and pushed and pushed by public opinion, by grassroots, by the trade unions, by decency, and by humanity. Thank you very much indeed.
Mike Vallance, Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty (ECAP)
Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty (ECAP) (edinburghagainstpoverty.org.uk) was set up by people on low incomes: unemployed, too sick to work, lone parents, on low wages…. On Tuesdays, 12pm – 3pm at the Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh, ECAP and Edinburgh Claimants run an open support and solidarity session for benefits hassles, debt woes, and similar poverty problems.
13 minutes 50 seconds:
Sasha Callaghan: Thanks very much. I think we have people on our panel who have at the very least the beginnings of some answers about how we do challenge this grand narrative. And they will introduce themselves starting with my left, so is that you Mike hiding over there ?
This is the thing, if you have someone who is a partially sighted chairing, it gets to be a…. Well I think that is you at the end Mike….
14 minutes 21 seconds:
“I am involved in Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty, its a group of people who are claiming benefits, people who are on low wages, often insecure jobs, and what we do is we give solidarity to people who are up against the benefits system. We accompany people to appointments at the Job Centre and the assessments like the Work Capability Assessment we saw Daniel undergoing at the beginning of the film.
What we want to do, along with the other groups here today, is organise informal training sessions so that lots of people, dozens, hundreds, can get involved in this solidarity accompanying because you have got a right to have somebody with you at any benefits appointment. And that can make a real difference.
And we need to spread that solidarity; we need to create a movement of widespread direct action. Like Paul said, to make their policies unworkable. To build a counter power that is coming from the people. It is not a case – as Paul says – of changing their minds; they know what they are doing. What we have to do is be stronger than them and actually stop them.
We have got to make policies like sanctions, Workfare, and cutting disability benefits unworkable. And this doesnae just apply to the millions of us on benefits. It is an attack on the whole working class, because like it is said in the film they are trying to drive folk off benefits to accept any sort of low paid crap insecure jobs to undermine everybody’s wages and conditions.
And there are some really specific things which are needed. We need to abolish the Work Capability Assessment. The person who is best placed to say if you are fit for work is your GP. Employment and Support Allowance should be paid on the basis of a sick line from your GP.
And we need to pressure the Scottish government to use the devolved powers to make concrete changes. So you should find on your seats this wee leaflet and it lists here a good number of measures which the Scottish government could take in the near future.
Just to mention one of them, the Scottish government could stop the disabled people on Disability and Living Allowance losing their benefit in the transfer to Personal Independence Payment. 30% of the people who are being assessed are losing their benefit completely. The Scottish government could stop this now and protect the benefits of all these people who are on Disability Living Allowance.
Just to finish up I think that the answer, the response to this film, which is a really really accurate portrayal of actually what happens – because we see it every week – is action. We have got to join together because we cannot rely on any politicians. We have got to join together, get involved, and actually create a big movement that will actually make the disgusting policies we see in the film completely unworkable, and lay the foundations for a different kind of world based on human needs and not on money.
Bill Scott: Policy Director at Inclusion Scotland
18 minutes 20 seconds
Bill Scott talks next who is Policy Director at Inclusion Scotland which is a consortium of organisations of disabled people and disabled individuals. Through a process of structured development they aim to draw attention to the physical, social, economic, cultural and attitudinal barriers that affect the everyday lives of disabled people in Scotland. They aim to encourage a wide understanding of those issues throughout mainstream thought in Scotland. They work to reverse the current social exclusion experienced by disabled people through civil dialogue, partnerships, capacity building, education, persuasion, training and advocacy.
“Good morning. I would like to start by introducing myself, I am Bill Scott, we are a national organisation which tries to work with the policy makers from Scottish government, NHS, local authorities etc – to try and make sure that disabled people’s voices are really heard in the process of making policy.
And I would like to really start by thanking Paul for the fantastic job he has done in capturing the lives of people who are going through this. And the bits that stand out for me are the instances, the kindness, common humanity, from people who have nothing – giving to one another. Just of themselves, and that is where I think we need to start informing a new social security system in Scotland.
It should be based upon that common humanity of giving to one another, which Paul and Ken have shown still exists and can really capture because the poison that is poaring out – the filth that poars out of the mainstream media attacking disabled people; attacking unemployed people, as the enemy within – has to stop.
And the politicians have to show leadership on that. And I think we have got some leadership on that. We have got a minister that says, people will be treated with dignity and respect, and I think she means that. I have seen her at events and disabled people have been going along to assessments, they’ve been going along to interviews at Job Centres and what they tell us when we ask them is they are not heard.
But when they have been going along to events over the summer and telling Jeane and officials from Scottish government about what they have experienced, they have been saying they have been heard; they have been listened to.
And the next step, the important step is to take that learning and act on it and form a system that really can deliver what we need which is deliver basic humanity to each other. Now people have been criticised the film for exaggerating things – well, in my personal experience there is no exaggeration; we have seen it.
I have literally taken phonecalls from women who have turned to prostitution because they’ve had their benefits stopped for three – four – five months at a time while waiting for mandatory reconsiderations to be carried out. Women who are suicidal afterwards because of the shame they felt; and the real shame is that we let that happen.
That is the real shame as a society that we put people through this with nothing to live on. We have got to stop it. I will stop there so we can have questions, but the final thing to say is it is not just me saying this, that all that is in that film is true, the United Nations is saying it. The United Nations have completed a confidential inquiry into the reforms of the UK welfare system and have concluded that there are systematic abuses of disabled peoples rights as a result of welfare reforms…
…and the UK governments response to that is we will do nothing to implement your recommendations as to how to improve things. Well, we have to have a government in Scotland that is prepared to implement those recommendations and I will leave you with that thought, that one of them is to involve disabled people in the process of designing benefits and seeing that they are carried out in a humane fashion.
We are asking for the opportunity to do that as a disabled people’s organisation – as a representative organisation. And I know the ministers door has been open up until now when we want to see her. I hope that will continue to be the case but we need to be at the heart of setting up new social security systems; not at the sides, not just asked for our opinion but actually at the heart of making that social security system so it is fit for purpose and serves disabled people’s needs. Thank you.
Member of Scottish Youth Parliament for Dunfermline and Member of TERA Committee. Another Scotland is Possible.
Sasha Callaghan continues: “Thanks Bill. Surely not too much to ask for humanity and respect. Ok, our last panel member is Lewis. Would you like to introduce yourself Lewis…”
23 minutes 40 seconds
“Now I am just going to stand up because I feel a bit uncomfortable like on Jeremy Kyle or something, sitting on these couches. I think Paul is going to tell me the DNA test is coming back today or something like that….
So I would like to just start by saying thanks to Paul and Ken for bringing such an important issue to light on the big screen for two main reasons. The first is that before I went to go and see it the first time, my mum and dad went to see it.
Now my dad is a brick layer. He is a kind of classic kinda working class man, he kinda believes what he reads in the papers and has a kinda weird opinion on benefits. You know the kind of classic opinion that a stereotypical working class guy has on benefits. And he came back and he couldn’t believe that this was how we have been treated.
He just thought of himself in Daniel Blake’s shoes, and was more upset than I have probably ever seen him in my whole life. So I would like to thank Paul and Ken, and all the actors in the film for just changing somebody’s opinion; and if you can change my dad’s opinion, you can change anybodies opinion I have to say – because I struggle to do it.
And the second is that we clearly know that it is accurate reality when we see on Question Time a Tory MP saying ‘this is just a work of fiction’ this is something that doesn’t happen to people in everyday life. Well it is something that happens to people up and down the length and breadth of this country.
It is absolutely shocking. So I would just like to ask you to think of somebody in your family who reminds you of Daniel Blake. Maybe you have seen them roll the mouse up and down the computer screen, because my mum and dad…
…my mum had cancer a couple of years ago and luckily she works for the civil service – and they are kind of decent employers. And my dad had health issues a couple of years ago as well – he works for Fife council, and again, it was ok.
But, if they did not have employers like that; if they weren’t in that situation, they would be a Daniel Blake. They would have been sanctioned; they wouldn’t have been able to use the computer. My dad has dyslexia, he wouldn’t have been able to do anything like that. And he wouldn’t have had the support there to do that.
So what I would say is think about somebody in your family; think about the woman down the street; the man that you see at the post office and picture what their life would be like. Imagine being in that situation, get angry about it, and go out and do something today. Id just like to finish on that note and I would welcome any questions on anything to do with this topic as it is something which I am really really passionate about. Thank you.”
Questions From The Floor
Sasha Callaghan convenes: What we are going to do is throw this session open to the audience now. There is going to be two energetic people running up and down with microphones. I will take two people at a time to take questions. And if you can not start talking till the mic comes to you that will be brilliant. Also, this is going to be a bit of a double act between me and Bill, because he is going to be my spotter…
27 minutes 53 seconds
Question one: I wanted to ask Jeane if she could say a bit more about this kind of parallel system because I think for me it is a very powerful film and being my age it doesn’t surprise me that things are getting awful. But I am interested to know if it is a devolved matter for social security; could you tell us a little more or tell us more about where we can find out about this parallel system… how can that actually come about
Question two: I have two questions. I would really like to say what a powerful film, full of emotion which has effected me quite drastically. This has been the second time I have watched it with Sasha there and each time has been a roller coaster of emotion including anger, pity, everything – Everything !! I mean it is just unbelievable and the unbelievable thing about it all is that this is actually happening, today, now, here – all over this country – and unless we do something about it then it will continue…. everybody is going to be effected. Now, hopefully that’s got rid of my emotions and I will go onto the questions that I have
The first question is about the actions which we take to overcome this. What do we need to do – how do we need to do it ? I heard Mike say getting together and making sure that people are represented with whatever the thing they are going to the DWP about, and yes, that is effective on a personal level but I don’t think that is going to actually change things. We have to be more clever than that.
The second question I have is, I hear what you say in… can you clarify for us, we are going to get 15% of the welfare/benefit/social security system – whatever you were to call it. When are we going to get it ? And when are you going to take action to ensure that… the worst things that are happening in those benefits – i.e. PIP and the fact that people are losing their ability to get out and be mobile. When can we do something, and what exactly are you going to do about that ?
Sasha Callaghan: I am going to take Jeane first because two of those questions were directed at her, and then I will open up the question to the rest of the panel. So Jeane…
31 minutes 34 seconds
Jeane Freeman MSP: Ok, and my apologies that I wasn’t clear enough at the outset. So what happened after the independence referendum – if people just cast their minds back and bear with me. There was something called the Smith Commission…
…and that commission negotiated in the basis of what we were told was a vow that was made just before the referendum vote, and that commission was made up of all the political parties, and it gave the transfer of certain powers – additional powers – to the Scottish parliament and Scottish government.
Part of that transfer included the equivalent of 15% of the UK spend on welfare, and a number of individual benefits were named. Those benefits are disability benefits, currently DLA that is transferring to PIP, Carers Allowance, what is at the moment the Sure Start Maternity Grant, the Funeral payment, Cold Weather and Winter Fuel Payments and one or two others.
What isn’t transferring is any benefit that relates to employment, so Universal Credit, neither is Employment and Support Allowance. So around eleven benefits, they make up roughly 15% of the UK spend, they effect one in four of us – so they effect about 1.4 million people.
We are now in the process of beginning to build a social security system for Scotland – a system which we have never had just for Scotland. So we are in effect building a new public service, and what we have to do to make that happen is we’ve got to unpick the 15% out of the UK welfare system, design it in a way that we think works best (we collectively that is) for Scotland, and then plug it back in to that UK system because there will be people who are on benefits which are delivered by both the Scottish government and by the UK government.
And we need to make sure that nobody falls in any cracks in between the two so we started the process with that fifteen month process which I talked about and which Bill referred to. Where we went to every local authority in Scotland – a number of events organised by people like Inclusion, Citizens Advice Bureau, STUC, others – and listened to particularly people who are currently in receipt of those benefits to tell us what they thought was wrong with the current system, and how it could be improved.
The next step has begun, and that is that we have to put a legislation through the Scottish Parliament in order to have the legal basis to have a social security system in Scotland. And we have to begin to design what ours should look like. And that’s where those experienced panels come in because we are not just determined to hear in a consultation what people with real experience have to tell us; we want them involved directly in designing what that system should look like.
So that would be for example, what is the evidence that you should need in order to qualify for Disability Living Allowance stroke PIP. My own strongly held opinion is that that evidence exists either in your GP records or in social care, and that that is where we should start. We should not need to have as many assessments as people currently have to go through.
I also think that our first minister made it clear in the Daily Record the other day, that we should have lifetime awards where people’s conditions are not going to improve and genuine long term awards.
But those experienced panels will be the panels of people with real experience who will help us work out all of that, at the same time we are going to bring together individuals with experience, practical experience of advising and supporting folks who the benefit systems so they can help us make sure that we don’t create any cracks in all of this.
Now what we said at the Holyrood elections in May was that we would take over the full delivery of those eleven benefits in the lifetime of this parliament. That means that by 2021 we will be delivering them all.
That doesn’t mean that we cant make some changes between now and then, and we are busy working out what some of those changes could be. But what what we have got to hold in our heads is that the end of this exercise the Scottish government will be making more payments in a week than it currently does in a year.
So the scale of this and the complexity of it makes sure that the Scottish system works in the UK system. It’s important that we get that right because that the one group of people who cant suffer because we’ve messed up are people who are in entitled to those benefits but don’t get them on time or the right amount because we didn’t get the system right.
So that’s why we are going to use the experienced panels and the other work that I have described in order to try and get the social security system in Scotland, one that is genuinely about dignity and respect, is fair, is transparent, and is built on the basis of real experience from people who have gone through the system and know what needs to be improved to make it work.
38 minutes 26 seconds
Sasha Callaghan: Thanks Jeane, just to bring back the panel onto the second question that Matt raised… We have already touched on this but how are we actually going to be doing this in a way that is radical and demands things. Start with you Mike…
Mike Vallance: Thanks. Matt said how the solidarity accompanying to the benefits office and the disability assessments is really good but isn’t enough. We agree with that but just to say first, it can make a real difference, always have somebody at the PIP assessment because of how at the Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty we’ve developed a method of making sure people get at these assessments what they really deserved.
The outcome was that we could force the assessor to actually take note of all this womans conditions and actually write it into her computer and it resulted in the person applying for PIP getting the full amount, so there is no doubt that this kind of basic solidarity can make a real practical difference.
But when they still knock us back, what we do is that we do a solidarity call out. We have got a phone trained, and we ask for folk to turn up at the Job Centre and back up the claimant and their advocate who are having the problem. For example at High Riggs in Edinburgh, we had a claimant that we backed up; he was trying to insist that he should not be sent to work for his benefits at some charity shop or company, and the job centre was trying to force him to do this.
What they did was they actually called the police to evict us from the Job Centre, so we called on people to turn up at the Job Centre in numbers. The Job Centre backed down and the claimant didnt have to on Workfare, instead he got proper support in the line of work in computers and such after. So I think this is a practical example of how we can actually make the policies unworkable and that is what we have got to aim at. It is no a case of changing their minds, we have got to make their policies unworkable.
And up in Dundee, the Scottish Unemployed Workers network have what they call an advocacy stall outside the Wellgate Job Centre; they are there two or three times a week. If somebody comes out saying their benefits have been stopped, what they do is go back right in the job centre with them to try and get them sorted out. And through that process we can actually put pressure on the job centre so that they become more scared of us being there than we are afraid of them.
We have got to turn the tables and I think an example of this kind of counterpower, this will make their policies unworkable. This is what happened with the Bedroom Tax; when the Bedroom Tax came in what we did in communities throughout Scotland was form local groups like they had one in Muirhouse.
And what we were saying was that if they try and evict anybody because they’ve nobody to pay their rent, because the housing benefit’s been cut; if they try and evict anybody we are going to be there in front of their door and chasing sheriff officers away. And people may argue about this, but I think that was a major reason that the Scottish government put in money so that the local government could cover the Bedroom Tax.
What is in no doubt is that is how we beat the Poll Tax; we beat the Poll Tax because we didn’t pay it and we chased away the sheriff officers. And that is the sort of kind of action, we’ve got to re-imagine it and think of a way where we can apply it to the situation of benefits.
And just to conclude that it is not just an issue with those of us that are claiming benefits now, because it could affect any of us and obviously the attack on benefits is part of the whole austerity attack on the whole working class.
So it is in all of our interests to support all the different struggles that are going on, if it is workers struggles, or housing struggles, tenants struggles, claimants struggles – we have all got to back each other up. Because some folks will remember this saying of my age; they may have the guns but we have the numbers.
43 minutes 19 seconds
Paul Laverty: Can I add something please, I will try and make it very brief. I think what Jeane was saying there was very very important. There is this change of culture. Can I just give you just a little example which I found out in the research which I found very very interesting.
The fact that in the film a lot of the people who are working in the Job Centre are actually DWP workers who had just retired. And many of them had been working in the civil service for thirty years, and they were just amazed at the way the culture had changed, and they said we are so stressed.
I thought it was because of the aggression from the public, but they said no, they get it from managers. Now this is very very important, what they are doing is as older people like that are going out, many of them are going out and setting up as independent helpers and assistants to people who have problems.
But what was very interesting was that they were recruiting young people who try to encourage them not to join the trade union and so they were much more gung ho. And I came across a remarkable example of that when I met a whistle blower in this city, and it was remarkable…
…and he showed me the name of all of the work colleagues along with the number of sanctions which had been carried out the previous month, along with a letter from a senior area manager saying only the top three had carried out enough sanctions. And if they dont pull their socks up you’ll be put on a PIP – this Kafka-esquan language that they used – a PIP is a Personal Improvement Plan, and that meant that they would not get a bonus or could potentially be thrown out of their job.
And a question I asked afterwards, in Liverpool actually; I actually met someone who worked inside the DWP who refused to carry out the sanctions as demanded. He ended up being kicked out, and he ended up in the food bank. I spoke to him afterwards. So I think it is really really important that we remember the bullying and the systematic nature of this within the system itself.
And the union; I met so many good people inside. I remember one guy in particular I met, who was absolutely humiliated by what he had been demanded to do by his managers – it was to call people in and give them a big run around, ask for their bank statements, saying why are you looking after this relative when you have a brother who lives closer. He was forced to do that.
So I think the unions inside these job centres they really need supported. I think that these gung ho managers who bully people like that have to be identified and isolated. And I think if there is a cultural change that Jeane is talking about just now, this may be a wedge to give the union much more power within this so there is a humane system with the public.
Now they have to be isolated and forced out, and I think that that is really really important. And maybe this might be the wedge Jeane, if you do this with these eleven benefits you wont need Maximus – we wont need an American multinational in there who are making money out of their most vulnerable souls. I think there is a great big cultural change that can happen within the system, so I think that what you are saying is really really important.
46 minutes 23 seconds
Sasha Callaghan: Thanks Paul, now I am sensing that there are lots more people who have lots more questions. So I am going to bring in Lewis and Bill in on the next round of questions, so you are not going to miss out listening to them.
Someone shouts: Hey ! What about us Cripps at the back !!!
Sasha Callaghan: We’ll get there…
Paul Laverty: I cant even see up there Sally…
47 minutes 23 seconds
Question three: I found the film really heart wrenching. I’ve worked in public services and I went into public services to provide public goods for the public. And I am appalled that people who are employed in the public service are being used to carry out these mean, badly designed tasks. They sound as if they have come out of Kafka and of Catch 22, but what I wonder about is in order to get public accountability you need public visibility, and this will really shine the torch in those dark areas that the rest of us sit in…
We have had through this film a chance to look at this area; I wonder in terms of the stakeholder involvement in terms of the minister for social security whether as well as an annual report on poverty in Scotland, we can have annual reports…
In terms of an annual report which goes through the parliament whether we can have an annual report from all service departments, and an evaluation carried out independently involving all stakeholders. That would mean that none of us have to sit here feeling ashamed about something we did not know was going on. We knew a little bit but we didn’t know enough.
Question Four: Thank you for such a powerful, and for me, educational film. I wanted to direct a question to Paul. What are the benefits of using fiction as opposed to documentary to question society and evoke action in relation to current politics ?
49 minutes 16 seconds:
Sasha Callaghan: Bill is going to have a shot at the first one…
Bill Scott: It is partially an answer to Matt’s question as well. I think that one of the things that occurred to me on my way here this morning is that this cinema would be full of people who probably already sympathetic to the ideas that Ken and Paul are trying to put across. In other words, we are preaching to the converted.
Now someone told me that the message comes out through us but one of the things which I was thinking about is Christine McKelvie who MSPs in the parliament, is trying to organise a showing to MSPs in the parliament.
And I think that is important, that MSPs begin to learn exactly what disabled people and unemployed people are going through in the system. But I also think it would be a good idea if officials, civil servants – as I used to be in the 1980s, when I worked in unemployment benefit – and Mike and I had a lot of contact with one another.
He was the Unemployed Workers Centre, and I was at the Unemployment Benefit Office, and I was a union rep at the time. And we kept up that sort of contact and I think that is really important to build on that. And to do as Paul says, to try and strengthen the unions hand inside the Job Centres; but the thing we could do is show this film to officials in Scottish government, in the new social security division – in Atlantic Quay and Victoria Quay – and let them see what people are going through because sometimes I think that people are too distant.
You know… they dont know exactly how it is effecting people. People dont believe that Mandatory Reconsiderations have no time limit, and that you can be left without money for months. It is true, it happens. It happens, not just to a few people. Last year, 26000 people went six months waiting for a Mandatory Reconsideration.
Six months with a choice either of no benefits or signing on or going through the ridiculous pantomime and knowing that you are too ill to work but being forced to look for work. So I think that one of the things that we could do that has tried with the production company is to arrange free screenings Paul.
I’ll let Paul answer about benefits restriction but to let the officials see what is there. And the other thing that we could do – certainly Inclusion Scotland has made this offer before – is to try and bring together all the groups; the ones who campaign on issues surrounding social security. We are not a campaigning organisation, we are a lobbying organisation. As such we are a charity so there is limits on what we can do in terms of direct action.
But certainly we could support you by bringing you together. Where you could sit down and plan a Scottish wide campaign that can really begin to lift this issue into the public’s eye and try and get some notice. And this film is a fantastic tool to do that with.
Paul Laverty: Just in relation to Bill Scott’s last point, we only have a modest little film company; there are only about eight people who worked there in our office in Soho in London, so it is small. So we have a fantastic distributor who are really marvelous who have put real money and imagination into this.
They really believe in this and are massively touched by the film, and they have given us a great run. We probably wouldn’t be here without their support. And also doing something magnificent too which has never been done as far as I know in the British film industry.
But they are organising community screenings; they are looking for a very little amount of money like eighty quid you can hire the film and then you can show it before it comes out on DVD, after, of course, it has had a run in the cinema. So I know that there are lots of screenings organised up and down the country organised so that people who cannot afford ten pounds – and let’s face it, if you are on JSA (it is £7.30 a day) for all your needs if you are under 25.
So to pay ten pounds is impossible, so organising free community screenings is one of the magnificent jobs they are doing on that. There is a guy called Ben Metcalf if anybody wants to organise it and do that.
In relation to your question, very very briefly; I dont believe it is an either/or – I think it is an interesting question; documentary or fiction. And it is strange as well that fiction sometimes has a great advantage because sometimes it can be more truthful.
Katy Morgan in this film, 50,000 families were kicked out of London in the three years prior to the film because they cannot afford the housing expenses – there are many many Daniel Blakes. And in fact there are many many tougher stories as many people here know about Daniel Blake. And the great advantage of fiction is you can shape it, you can hone it.
You can try and think of a very tight premise. You can have a very tight narrative and you can do that well with three dimensional characters – so you can bring in empathy, you can bring in solidarity from neighbours, you can bring in cruelty; you can bring in all these crises. You can do that in a very efficient fashion in two hours.
So I think that the stories that we tell ourselves are really really important. I mean I can think of the Grapes of Wrath for example. That probably told us more about the crisis in the United States in the great depression than many many reports. So fiction has great possibilities, but that fiction can be truthful too I hope.
55 minutes 12 seconds
Jeane Freeman MSP: I just wanted to say a couple of things…the first thing is about the question of culture because as Paul said in recent months I have had many letters and emails from people who currently work for the DWP who say in that communication how much they dislike their job, how much the job is not what it used to be, how they go home in tears.
But of course, you cant just give up your job because it is miserable and its not what you want to do. But with the help and support of the PCS (Public and Commercial Services Union – http://www.pcs.org.uk/) which is the main public union, then we will be reaching out through that union to those individuals and to others to help us work out how the culture of our social security system can be got right from the outset.
Because I do think the truth is that if we want people who want in the social security system in Scotland to treat those who come to it for health and support, with dignity and respect then that organisation has to treat those people who work for it with dignity and respect. And so we need to get that right from the start.
Just on the question of the screenings I think the thing to do is to think about the people who have those stereotypical views about folks who are on benefits – who believe the propaganda, because there is no other word for it; that people on benefits are skivers and are lazy, and just want to live off the state – and try and organise screenings there.
The reality is that they’re quite happy Im sure – that if it can be done in Atlantic Quay and Victoria Quay social security directorate, Im sure that people would watch that, but then, many of them have already been and seen it.
And very many of them themselves have family – direct family or slightly more distant family who are on benefits of various descriptions – as I do too. So let’s not assume that people who are in the civil service know nothing about what this experience is like and every single one of them who’s joined the new social security directorate has positively chosen to do that because they want to build something in Scotland that is very different.
So we need to work well with them. As well as with the union to try and get it right from the outset and lets find where the attitudes are which we need to change, and take the screenings there.
Sasha Callaghan: Right we have time for one more question…
58 minutes 28 seconds
Question Five: My question is relating to Jeane, but before that can I just say to Paul that the touches in the film that worked best were the little carry ons by the Scots guy and the wheelchair; I feel vindicated by both of those so thanks very much.
But also I think the film underlined the basic principle which is the problem which is our social security system. That is that it is based on someone’s ability to work – that’s how it is phrased, that’s how it is put.
It’s the cost of keeping someone unemployed rather than in work. We need to change that mindset that really permeates the entire problem. Not seeing people for their humanity, but seeing them as economic units. It’s not about Daniel Blake being himself but about Daniel Blake being denied because he has no economic value.
That is what we need to change. There will be many many many people who will never be able to work. Are we writing them off ? Are we just saying that you are just objects of pity ? Or are we saying that because you clearly cannot ever expect them to work we will just park them in one corner and not worry about them.
We will only worry about those who we think should be working. That is the mindset that we – again – really need to change. Nobody should have to work, in the sense that information, a job – as Daniel found out – and we cant expect him to work, and there isn’t a job that they can fulfil, then we shouldn’t be expecting people to do that.
And lastly, if there isn’t a job that pays a reasonable amount of money then what we are basically doing is dehumanising one more time. So there is lots and lots of different things that come from this film that isnt about how you deliver a system – the system is really just a reflection of the values of society, and that’s what needs to change.
Sasha Callaghan: Thanks George – Lewis…
Lewis Akers: I think the point about jobs is quite important as well because you can see on the news that like, most of the time we turn it on they will have some politician raving that there has been a million new jobs that have been created. But that looks really good at surface value but that is really a bit like a swan. On the surface that seems like everything is going fine, everything is going smoothly but underneath if you actually analyze it there is a lot of tremors in the water there.
These are not good jobs that are being created, these are jobs that don’t always suit people, these are zero hour contracts, these are low paid, low skilled jobs, that really lead you only to a deadend. So I think the point about work is very important that just because there are jobs doesn’t mean that people should do them.
It doesn’t mean that it always suits people, it doesn’t mean that people actually have the ability to do them. So I think that that was really a perfect point, and… I just wanted to come back on a point made earlier that ties into this, that people shouldn’t have to work. I think that is really a key thing.
And that the movement, obviously the movements that are going to challenge these sort of things are important, but I think the ideas are even more important. And one idea that there is – and there is probably hundreds of ideas along the same lines; there is Universal Basic Income that takes that kind of economic value that is put on people and removes it, and actually values people just as human beings – and treats them with decency.
So I think that to actually be successful, obviously we need the unions like Paul said, obviously we need the broad coalitions but we need these bold ideas like Universal Basic Income that don’t just view people as kind of objects – they don’t just view people as human resources that you can move around like cattle. They view them as humans. So sorry, that is all I had to say.
Sasha Callaghan: Paul, would you like to come in on that point very quickly…
Paul Laverty: Yes, I think that that last point was absolutely brilliant. It is only one I think that perhaps in the future in the whole notion of jobs there is going to be so much more automation. Many jobs will just disappear.
And I think that just by sheer reality we will have to look at the old radical things in the future, at how we share work and how we share resources. And I think that a Basic Citizens Income is going to be something that will come by just sheer logic.
And I think that it is not something that we should be frightened of because I think it could liberate many many people and get rid of this punitive judgemental system. And I really really hope that it will help communities to strive and people’s creativity.
I think there is a conference on today at Glasgow which is on the Basic Income, so I think that its time will come, and I think it will help us share resources. But again, I think the real importance of being very very creative and rigorous because I remember when we were doing the film, finding people who were looking for jobs 35 hours a week, and in the film there is 50 people chasing every single job.
I mean, that is misery. That grinds people down, it makes people ill, at it is the system that is at fault. And as human being one thing we really have is creativity, and we really really have to work on that and let that flourish.
Sasha Callaghan: Now I realise that other people have questions, but I really have to cut things short. I am sorry, I’m sorry, we are not having a dialogue here. We have to be out of here by quarter past one. So apologies for anyone who wasn’t heard, I’m sure that panel members will be able to stay at the end and maybe address the points that want to make. Willy, did you want to come in now.
Willy Black sits on the community council for West Pilton West Granton, and has been an advocate for community regarding social justice issues for many years
There is a clammer of people wanting to say things
Willy Black: To be honest, your hand is welcome, but see your hand, if you put your hand up in one of the community screenings and help to organise the community screenings
Someone is interjects: I work in the Third Sector and I had a friend who committed suicide recently in Byker… as a direct result of these cuts. So I did have a few valid points but obviously it is not to be treated today but I had my hand up from the beginning.
Willy Black: Your point is not lost, your point is that there is lots of people who equally are in your position who are campaigning, who are going along with people and are working in the third sector in Muirhouse, in Craigmillar, and whatever.
And Jeane said there’s two audiences, and we need to organise the first audience. And that is the people who dinnae have a voice. We’ve had some community consultations and when you listen to people in those community consultations you’ll hear the Daniel Blake stories.
What we want to do now with your money, and the fact you have came along and given your postal code and your email is that we want to organise geographically across Edinburgh so we can start showing the film. The producer and the distribution system have said we can have pre-released DVDs – that is before it is to go on sale.
I’m gonna ask you. I’m not here to ask a question. The question is, what are we going to do now. And in January and all over Edinburgh, in pubs and in community centres and art centres, we are going to show I Daniel Blake. We are also going to be asking people to come along and be a part of that solidarity.
….voices in West Lothian and Musselborough, people hear today who will be doing the same thing. Doing the same thing across Scotland, so that we are the wind behind Jeane’s back. But we are also, if Jeane stumbles, be the people who pick it up and argue beyond that. We cannot accept and tolerate what’s happening. The 15% that is possible to change, we want it right to the edge – right to the most radical changes so that we can be a beacon here in Scotland for the people who have a scouse accent or people from the south east. We have to show people that it is possible to change the economic and social system by putting pressure on.
…There should have been somebody from London here, I don’t know why they didnae turn up. But we didn’t just want to be Scottish, we wanted to be people that all over Britain that are actually campaigning on all of this. So we’ll dae our bit here – as the Cuban general said, when he was asked by the Americans ‘Can we come to Cuba to help you ?’; he said ‘Dinnae bother, you are in the heart of the lion, destroy it there, and that’s the best help you can gie’.
So we fight where we are, wie an idea that we are helpin everybody. So we can change the system here – through Jeane, through the Scottish government. But we need to do much more than that. We want to be in solidarity.
When Mike argued about the Poll Tax. You see there were two things about the Poll Tax – you see there were the ones who could not pay….
Someone interjects: It is talk, it is talk…
Willy Black continues: …and then there was the other people who could not, who would not, in order for them to lie and be in isolation. So what they are arguing for today….
Someone interjects: Don’t just talk about it, do it.
Willy Black responds: Listen mate, this is what we have done. This is our example, we are doing it…..Can you gie me your name coz you are going to be the best helper that we’ve got where you are. So what we are going to do is mobilise and we will show I Daniel Blake. Please forgive me for ranting but to be honest there is a lot to rant aboot. In the third or fourth week of January you will be contacted to help build it in your locality. Thank you.
Sasha Callaghan: And thanks to everybody for being here. The next step is down to everybody here, and we all need to work together in solidarity. Thank you for being here, and let’s just try and do something to make the most of I Daniel Blake and to actually change the system in Scotland so that there is one of humanity and where people are treated fairly. Thanks. Safe journey home everyone.