Anywhere we have an internet connection, we’re part of a networked society. By having news notifications sent to our phones and scrolling down Facebook or Twitter, we feel up to date. We might be given a statistic about increased levels of homelessness or unemployment rates because it’s a quick, memorable piece of information which fits in with a fast-paced lifestyle. However, all too often these statistics lose their power because they get lost in an overwhelming stream of bad news. Often, hearing a first-hand experience is more valuable because it allows us to empathise, rather than simply reading a statistic we don’t feel a connection to.
As I touched on in my last article about Humans of New York, individual stories give us the necessary opportunity to consider at length the perspective of people struggling to survive in a system that is failing them. For example, a story about someone facing unemployment carries more weight than being given a fact about unemployment rates because we get an insight into what it feels like.
What springs to mind is Ken Loach’s 2016 film I, Daniel Blake. The film’s focus on an elderly man who is deemed unfit for work by his doctor after a heart attack, yet denied employment and support allowance, gives a first-hand insight into the incomprehensible reality of today’s benefit system. He is trapped in an impossible limbo between not being physically able to work and needing to look for work to receive his jobseeker’s allowance. Despite his own vulnerability, Daniel does everything he can to support a single mother, Katie, who is struggling to provide for her children. His simple acts of kindness work to pick up the pieces from a failing system and show the presence of compassion and humanity between those who have been abandoned by the government.
The film completely rejects the ignorant view held by some people that those who rely on benefits are lazy; Katie wants to study at the Open University and Daniel lives his life putting others first and supporting members of the community.
This is often where factual news stories fall short. If people who rely on benefits aren’t given a voice in the media, then stereotypes and generalisations are formed because these brief news stories fail to convey the true effect of a benefit system which is purposely made to be a mind field. The way stories are told is just as important as the reality that is being presented. I, Daniel Blake opened my eyes to the daily struggles of resilient people who aren’t getting the support they deserve because of a failing social security system – which I felt urged to change. The film made me realise we’re not as well-informed as the internet would lead us to believe.
I, Daniel Blake and Humans of New York allow us to connect politics with the people who are most affected by destructive decisions made in parliament. If there were more opportunities to listen to valuable experiences, we could move towards a truly connected society, in which everyone gives a second-thought to the lives of strangers we walk past every day. This level of consideration and care is what will connect us, not simply scrolling through facts and headlines that are overlooked and later forgotten about.