Skip to content

Nothing More and Nothing Less: A Lent Course based on the film I, Daniel Blake – Virginia Moffatt

March 21, 2018

NMANLOf the many books on the market this year, this one was the one I chose for the course I am leading.

It uses the powerful, multi-award winning film I, Daniel Blake, directed by Ken Loach and written by Paul Laverty, as an opportunity for us to question why so many people in our society are suffering, what causes injustice and oppression – looking at examples from Jesus’ time as well as today – and what we can do in response.

The course is based around five weekly group sessions entitled:

  • Systems of Oppression
  • Staying Human
  • Compassion in the Darkness
  • Fighting Back or Giving In?
  • The Suffering Servant

Each session includes suggested clips from I, Daniel Blake to watch as a group (with timings for a DVD or film download), reflection points and discussion starters, a suitable Bible reading and prayers, and a short section of suggestions for ways in which course members could make a positive practical response.

She shows an ignorance of New Testament scholarship in her treatment of the Good Samaritan and she doesn’t know what the Ten Commandments are.

In Session 2, the film clips are numbered wrongly – 4 instead of 3 – this wrecked one of my sessions.

My group found the course too long – too much detail spelling out everything. One film night would have sufficed to explore most issues, much as the Bible Society’s ‘Reel Issues’.


Pinochet’s Chile 1973-1990: In 1973, General Pinochet mounted a successful coup against the left-wing President Allende. Following the coup, opposition groups were rounded up and many were tortured and killed. During the worst years of the Pinochet regime, dissent was ruthlessly suppressed and left wing activists, church members and unionists were regularly tortured or murdered.

North Korea present day: In North Korea today, all workers are expected to prepare for the day by reading through political instructions and end it by evaluating the day including self-criticism and colleague criticism. Meanwhile, the government runs a brutal system of labour camps for 200,000 prisoners, and has a three generational punishment policy, so grandchildren can be forced to endure the punishment of their grandparents.’

Can you see any links between these examples of repression and the DWP system that affects Daniel and Katie?

Have you ever been complicit in oppression, e.g. not supporting a bullied colleague, buying goods from a repressive regime? What stopped you from speaking up? Would you do it differently next time?

What do oppressive systems have in common?

What should Christians do in the face of oppression?

The biopsychosocial model of disability sees disability and ill health as being part of a complex interaction of biological, psychological and social issues. This model suggests that the problems created by illness and disability can be overcome if people are supported to understand the roots of their illness better.

The medical model of disability was the dominant model for much of the twentieth century. This often led to sick and disabled people being at best, institutionalised, and at worst, treated dismissively by the professionals they encountered. The failure ()I medical institutions and the emerging disability fights movement in the 1970s brought this model lo the forefront, and the social model began to take prominence from the 1980s onwards. While in recent Limes, campaigns by sick people have led to the idea of he ‘expert’ patient, who knows as much or more than 1he medic treating their condition, and whose views ‘,hould be equal when discussing treatment plans.

In the last twenty years, the biopsychosocial model has grown in significance, as we have begun to understand that the causes of ill health are complex. It has been particularly promoted by insurance companies keen to avoid expensive claims for health related absence from work.

Imagine that you are living in an authoritarian regime, where small breaches of the rules result in punishment. One day you commit a minor infringement of the law for which you receive a hefty fine and a warning. There are mitigating circumstances, so you protest, your fine is doubled and now you are marked as a troublemaker. You work for a government body and they are notified. A few weeks later you are told about a new initiative to save money. When you point out the flaws in the programme you are demoted and your salary reduced, putting pressure on the family budget. You are warned that if you raise any further issues you may lose your job. You have seen this happen to people many times, so you know it is not an idle threat.

In this session we have been thinking about how we might try and maintain our humanity living under an oppressive regime. But what happens afterwards? When you are finally released from your anguish? Or when the regime is no more? How do you stay human then?

For some people, the experience is so destructive, their lives will never the same again. Paddy Hill was one of the Birmingham Six. Wrongly accused of planting the 1974 Birmingham bomb that killed 21 people and injured. 162 others, Hill was beaten up by the police, I hreatened with a gun and eventually convicted along with five other men, mainly on the basis of false confessions. They were to spend sixteen years in prison before finally being released in 1991. The men were released without being given counselling. This has been particularly hard on Hill, who still struggles with the trauma he endured, to such an extent that he dreams of killing policemen, cannot forgive his captors and finds it difficult to maintain relationships with the people he loves. He attributes his current problems to the lack of professional help he received on his release.

For others, it seems possible to find a way through the trauma. The whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who released evidence of US war crimes in Iraq, was often treated harshly in prison, being placed in solitary confinement and not receiving appropriate support when she came out as transgender. However, her statement on leaving prison in May 2017 suggests someone whose aim is to turn her suffering into something positive:

‘For the first time, I can see a future for myself as Chelsea. I can imagine surviving and living as the person who I am and can finally be in the outside world. Freedom used to be something that I dreamed of but never allowed myself to fully imagine. Now, freedom is something that I will again experience with friends and loved ones after nearly seven years of bars and cement, of periodsof solitary confinement, and of my health care and autonomy restricted, including through routinely forced haircuts. I am forever grateful to the people who kept me alive, President Obama, my legal team and countless supporters.

‘I watched the world change from inside prison walls and through the letters that I have received from veterans, trans young people, parents, politicians and artists. My spirits were lifted in dark times, reading of their support, sharing in their triumphs, and helping them through challenges of their own. I hope to take the lessons that I have learned, the love that I have been given, and the hope that I have to work toward making life better for others.’

In an earlier scene that we watched last week Daniel experiences a similar moment of compassion, when he visits the job centre and sees the member of staff who had been kind to him the previous week. She is helping him, when her boss intervenes and tells her not to. In this scene we see Daniel meeting another that they would likely be ill-treated on their return. While the majority of soldiers complied with these orders some resisted. Those that followed orders were complicit in the imprisonment, deaths and torture that followed. Those that didn’t helped the refugees escape.

Yugoslavian refugees were also subjected to the same treatment during this period. My brother-in-law’s father, Roger Williams, was in a platoon given orders to repatriate people fleeing oppression in Yugoslavia. They were painfully aware of the Nuremberg Trials, and the knowledge that ‘following orders’ was no longer a sufficient reason not to help. Recognising the Yugoslavians as fellow human beings first, they refused the order, and saved lives, despite facing possible punishment themselves. Shortly afterwards Roger met and married a German woman, Rosemarie, with whom he had a long and very happy marriage, proving in the best way possible that there is always a human being beyond the idea of the ‘enemy:

In recent years in Europe we have seen large numbers of refugees fleeing wars. We have seen borders erected and many countries choosing to turn people back. Every day border staff are faced with the same dilemma Roger Williams faced, to let people cross or turn them back. Meanwhile, many who choose to help refugees are criminalised. In 2015, three Spanish firefighters working for an NGO were arrested in Greece after they rescued refugees from the sea. Despite receiving a great deal of support for their actions, they are facing trial for human trafficking, while other activists have been fined for giving refugees lifts or cups of coffee. Were Roger and his colleagues right to ignore orders and let the Yugoslavians stay?

Should we criminalise people who help refugees?

Is there a limit to how open our borders can be? Is it right to follow orders to maintain them?

Is there a Christian response to the refugee crisis?

The German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said, ‘We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.’ Let us share some thoughts about how we might do this.

Ken Loach and Paul Laverty made the film I, Daniel Blake as a response to the harm created by the work capability assessment. Story telling is a technique many organisations and campaign groups use to raise awareness of an injustice. In 2011, Lisa Chalkley, a mental health activist, and I began the Atos Stories Collective as a way of challenging Atos Healthcare, a private company appointed by Labour to manage the work capability assessment at the time. We asked for people’s experiences to help us create a play which could be performed by anyone, anywhere to inform the public about what was happening. The result was Atos Stories, a play for performance inspired by these statements, and The Atos Monologues which used the direct text from participants. The work was freely downloadable. The play was performed by the Newham theatre group, Act Up! Newham, who performed Atos Stories in 2012. The Monologues were used by many groups and read as part of vigils, demonstrations and performances. The project culminated in 2013 with a mass read which happened both on the streets of Oxford and Lampeter and online with stories shared by livestreaming, podcast and on twitter.’

Take an issue you care about such as welfare cuts, homelessness, refugees, and find a project that has published real life experiences about this subject (some examples are given in the resources section at the end). Depending on the amount of time you have available, as a group either:

Plan a public event to read these stories, OR share these stories via your social media accounts,

OR tell other people about them.

Return to the home page



Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: