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Tuesday 24th
posted by Conrad Landin in Britain

EXCLUSIVE: I, Daniel Blake actor Kate Rutter on why Ken Loach’s film will pave the way for a fightback

CLAIMANTS and jobcentre staff must come together to defeat the Tories’ attempts to dismantle the welfare state, an actor in Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake said yesterday.

Kate Rutter plays a benefit clerk reprimanded for trying to help the title character navigate red tape in the film — which won the top prize at Cannes on Sunday night.

Exclusively interviewed at Equity conference, the actor said the response to the film was a “message of hope” in “very dangerous times.”

And speaking from France, Mr Loach told the people’s paper that the BBC is afraid of tackling political issues in its drama because it is “intimidated by government.”

The Palme d’Or-winning film tells the story of a joiner who goes hungry after being declared fit for work — having been forced to give up his job after a heart attack.

Sheffield-based actor and Equity rep Ms Rutter said: “I think this film has found its moment politically.

“We’re living in very dangerous times, with a huge movement towards the right wing and the rise of fascism in Europe and here.

“But there is also the rise of a new generation of people who are questioning the status quo, who I hope will be a great audience for this film.”

The film shows how staff as well as jobless and disabled people are targeted by the increasingly punitive benefits system. Mr Loach said: “Clearly the staff are in a situation where it’s very difficult not to act as instructed.

“In the jobcentre in the film, all parts behind the desk — apart from Kate and one other — were taken by people who left the DWP because they objected to way it was being run.”

Ms Rutter said: “I feel that the people who are working in those situations are themselves under tremendous pressure.

“At one time, they felt their job to be to help people back into work and increasingly — I’m talking here personally, I have a cousin who works in the DWP — the pressure is to get as many people off benefit as possible.

“There’s some good people who have left their jobs because the pressure of that is too much for them.”

She said the film’s Palme d’Or win was “a recognition of its international importance as a film about the current austerity agenda.”

She said “one would hope … very much” that the film could encourage the victims of the welfare system on both sides of the counter to come together in opposition to austerity.

“To call Ken’s films just political is, in my view, a misnomer — because this film has got tremendous heart, it deals with the human cost of austerity,” she said.

Civil Service union PCS will hear calls at its annual conference — which starts today in Brighton — to “intensify” its campaign against the “sanctions regime” in the benefits system. 

A union spokesman said: “It’s not only a damning indictment of the devastating impact of Tory social security policies on people’s lives but it also exposes how the jobcentre has been turned from being a place to go for help and support to one of conflict and suspicion.”

Disabled People Against Cuts founder Linda Burnip said if jobcentre staff agreed to stop sanctioning people “the whole system would fall apart.”

She said: “It’s really great that someone has won an award for making a film about how the welfare state is being dismantled. And more importantly, winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes has made it an international issue.”

Mr Loach said the paucity of films and TV programmes confronting big political issues was due to fears of repercussions from government.

“The BBC is intimidated by the government and its default position is to play safe and not to upset whichever government is in power.

“The government has always tried to bully the BBC: Blair’s government did, Thatcher did, and now the Cameron government. Management are intimidated, so don’t rock the boat.”