A Hasland couple say a film which aims to show the ‘cruelty’ of the benefits system could have been based on their lives.
‘I, Daniel Blake’ - which is directed by Ken Loach of ‘Kes’ fame - tells the story of a man trying to get back on his feet after suffering a heart attack.
Now, after watching the film at Chesterfield’s Pomegranate Theatre on Friday, Barry and Joyce Flanagan were shocked at how similar their experiences were to the characters in the movie.
Joyce, 66, said: “Our experience is the film in reality. It really is.
“Barry had a brain haemorrhage and heart failure and actually arrested twice.
“He even took ill at his assessment and yet was still found fit for work.
“And it’s not just us - I work at the Royal and I see many, many people in the same situation.”
The special showing of the film was organised by activist Colin Hampton, of the Derbyshire Unemployed Workers’ Centre.
He said that such had been the emotional impact of the film, some members of the audience had actually left the theatre early.
“There has been a lot of comment in the national media saying that the film isn’t true and doesn’t show the reality,” said Colin.
“I can absolutely say that it is true - I know of families in Chesterfield where the situation absolutely mirrors what happens in the film.
“I think all politicians of whatever political persuasion should be working to try to restore dignity to people claiming benefits.
“It doesn’t just affect other people - illness can happen to anyone.”
The film - which won the Palme D’or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival - aims to change attitudes about the benefits system in the same way that Loach’s classic Cathy Come Home did with poverty and homelessness.
Colin said his organisation is hoping to show the film at venues across North Derbyshire to ensure as many people see it as possible.
One of those profoundly affected by the film was 65-year-old Pat Wilkins from Newbold, who came out of the theatre in tears.
She said: “I am crying because the film shows what the Tories have been doing - gradually wearing people down bit by bit.
“You don’t know all that is going on if you are fortunate enough not to have gone through it.
“The sanctions are the most upsetting bit because he just isn’t aware of how the system works.
“All he wanted was to get fit enough to get back to work but everything conspires against the man.”
Also there was one of the actors from the film, Kate Rutter, who plays sympathetic Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) official, Ann.
She said she understood why people were upset after watching the film but what she really wanted was for people to get angry.
She said: “I feel very, very proud to be part of this film - when the part was offered to me, I jumped at it.
“But this is an opportunity to get together with other people to organise and fight.
“There is a huge injustice being done to disabled people but the film is an indication that attitudes on this are changing.”
“The people who are in the film apart from the actors are all DWP employees and they have had enough of treating people like this.
“We kept asking them what it was really like and they just fed us information.
“So, if it has made you angry I am delighted because making it has made me furious.”
Speaking after the film was shown, Chesterfield MP, Toby Perkins, said: “I see people like Daniel Blake every week in my surgeries but when I speak to people on the doorstep I don’t hear a lot of sympathy.
“What we need to do is put the truth out there through the media about how the benefits system treats people - but we need to try to take the public with us on that.”
n I, Daniel Blake is out now. To find out more about the Derbyshire Unemployed Workers’ Centre call 01246 231441.