Stephen Hepburn MP: Award-winning film director’s visit to Hebburn highlights Tory austerity

Award-winning director Ken Loach. Picture by Julian Brown
Award-winning director Ken Loach. Picture by Julian Brown

It’s not every day we enjoy welcoming a famous award-winning film director to the Iona Club in Hebburn, or every year if I’m honest.

Ken Loach, the genius behind the explosive ‘I, Daniel Blake’ and ‘Cathy Come Home’ hit films, loved the visit as much as the members of the Jarrow constituency, including friends from the South Shields and Gateshead Labour Party.

I want to thank publicly a great Hebburn lad, legal eagle and campaigner for social justice, the one and only Mick Laffey, for bringing Loach to the North East.

Mick has his own starring role in I, Daniel Blake. You see him in his wheelchair, playing a welfare rights officer in the movie about how cruel Tory austerity and brutal benefit cuts grind down the eponymous carpenter who grafted all his life, paying his taxes and national insurance, then aged 59 and unable to work after a heart attack, discover the system won’t help him.

The blockbuster was shot on Tyneside and there was fury and a determination to put things right by booting out the Tories and replacing them with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour championing working people and committed to fairness.

Politics boils down to whose side you are on and every decent person in Britain is on the side of Daniel Blake, except a spiteful Tory elite imposing life-destroying austerity on the many while lining the pockets of a rich few.

I, Daniel Blake paints the brutal and cruel reality of a bureaucratic benefits system, the pain and heartbreak many men and women, young and old, healthy and sick, able-bodied and disabled, are forced to endure when they need help and instead get a kick in the teeth.

Hundreds of thousands of vulnerable and struggling people in my Jarrow parliamentary patch are treated by the Conservative Government with a heartless indifference we hoped we’d seen the back of when Margaret Thatcher’s Tories were finally awarded the order of the sack.

I promise it’ll be better under Labour when I, Daniel Blake highlights a Tory terror dehumanising people who worked hard then when ill health or unemployment come along are wrongly blamed for their plight.

It is an indictment of the Tories that since 2010 the number of households relying on the charity of foodbanks to survive has rocketed by 300% in our region.

In the film, Daniel, played by Geordie comic Dave Johns, is a 59-year-old joiner signed off from work after having a massive heart attack.

Yet deemed fit enough to work by a DWP “decision-maker”, doubtless under pressure to implement the Tory regime, he loses his disability benefits leaving him with no choice but to sign on for Jobseeker’s Allowance.

Daniel’s forced to spend 35 hours a week applying for jobs he can’t take and sit through patronising CV classes that won’t help him one bit while trying to recover.

He appeals the decision but struggles to navigate the computerised system when he doesn’t have his own PC or laptop let alone know how to use one.

Daniel’s story is sadly all too familiar in real life and smug Tories treating every claimant as a ‘scrounger’ are beneath contempt.

In the film a frustrated Blake declares: “I am not a client, a customer, nor a service user ... a shirker, a scrounger, a beggar, nor a thief ... I paid my dues, never a penny short, and proud to do so ... I don’t accept or seek charity ... I am a man, not a dog ... I demand you treat me with respect.”

We’re all Daniel Blake’s