Ken Loach’s new film, I Daniel Blake, shows what life can be like for people trying to survive in our underfunded and punitive benefit system.
Katie has her benefits sanctioned and, in a distressing scene at the food bank, we see her overcome with hunger after missing meals in order to provide food for her children. Unable to find work when her daughter needs new shoes, Katie feels the only option is to take up sex work.
According to a report by Changing Lives, a charity which supports sex workers, more and more single- parent mothers who are faced with low incomes, benefit cuts and sanctions are resorting to sex work to feed their families.
Their research found that the number of women in the sex industry in Sheffield has increased by 144 per cent.
The women interviewed cited poverty, sexual violence and a lack of support from the police as their major problems. Changing Lives also highlights the link between the trauma of childhood sexual abuse and sex work which increases their exposure to exploitation. Their report calls for the ending of benefit sanctions and the development of specialist services to work with this group.
Sheffield City Council’s Fairness Commission has recognised that single parent mothers are finding themselves at the sharp end of UK welfare changes which have moved towards a greater emphasis on imposing benefit conditions and sanctions.
Claimants can lose their benefits for up to three years and sanctions lead to hardship, debt and stress. In fact, single mothers have been found to be the poorest group living in the city by the University of Sheffield research. Food banks, which have increased in Sheffield from two in 2012 to around 11 in 2016, cannot feed everyone.
Sheffield is one of the most socially and economically divided cities and the council acknowledges in its Fairness Framework that social inequality has a negative impact on the whole community.
Ken Loach wanted to show the human consequences of austerity and to cut through the stigmatising of benefit claimants.
As Sheffield Council tries to address social inequality we must work to ensure that all women have the support and the opportunities to lead safer and more fulfilling lives.