There follow the minutes of our March meeting, including a discussion on the film I, Daniel Blake. Our next monthly meeting will be held on Wednesday 5 April at 7.30 p.m., at the wheelchair-accessible River Lane Centre, River Lane, Cambridge CB5 8HP.
Cambridge People's Assembly, 1 March 2017
- Agreement of the agenda
- Apologies for absence
- Approval of the minutes and matters arising
- Secretary's report
- Treasurer's report
- Action for the NHS, 1. National demonstration, 4 March
- Action for the NHS, 2. Against the local STP
- Austerity and homelessness
- Other business
- Next meeting
The venue was the River Lane Centre, at 7.30 p.m. Present were Dan (meeting chair), Hilary, Jenny, Martin, Neil (secretary), and Richard M. (campaign chair). Names may have been changed.
The discussion, which was held before the business of the meeting, is presented here afterwards.
The meeting agreed to omit a discussion of pharmacy cuts, tabled as item 9. Otherwise it accepted the agenda Neil had circulated.
Faraz and Nicki (treasurer) had sent their apologies.
The minutes were approved and there were no matters arising.
Neil reported 245 subscribers to the Cambridge People's Assembly's (CPA's) mailing list (246 last month), while 948 Twitter users followed it (943) and 601 Facebook users liked it (598).
On behalf of Nicki, Neil reported overall funds of £368.73 (a bank balance of £235.76, a PayPal balance of £124.72, and £8.25 cash). Income last month was ticket revenue of £130 and a collection of £31.75. Expenditure last month was £520 on coach hire, £28.50 on leaflet printing, £25.64 on Eventbrite fees, £6.94 on PayPal fees, £15 on ticket refunds, and £5 on the group's regular donation to the national office.
The CPA had hired a coach to provide cheap coach transport to and from this London demonstration.
Neil reviewed publicity efforts since the last meeting. He had had printed a leaflet, which supporters and friends had distributed: Hilary, Jenny, and Mick had leafleted the I, Daniel Blake community screening on 14 February; Hilary, Martin, and Neil had leafleted Fitzroy Street on 25 February; Richard and Roger had leafleted patients and visitors at Addenbrooke's Hospital on 28 February; and Stuart had leafleted Addenbrooke's staff. Online, Neil had notified the CPA's mailing list and Dan had created a Facebook event.
Neil reported that with all these efforts, 45 of 47 seats had been booked. Richard believed it had been some time since a local campaign had been able to fill a coach in that way.
The meeting noted that the Cambridge News for 28 February had printed a personal letter from Hilary, urging readers to join the demonstration.
Hilary advised that the Centre for Health and the Public Interest had published a good assessment of the NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) by John Lister, The Failure of Privatised Adult Social Care in England. Dan urged and the meeting agreed that the CPA should publicize and circulate it.
Neil advised that a final draft of the CPA's response to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough STP was now ready for publication, and read the text aloud. Richard suggested a number of additions to consider. Otherwise the meeting approved the text.
Neil suggested a public meeting on the local STP. Dan agreed it would be good to pass on information to others, but thought a meeting should be broader, and address the general state of the NHS. Down the line the initials STP might be more widely meaningful, but the group had to work from where people were now. Planning should continue on the group's discussion list and in its next meeting.
Neil recalled that in the discussion of directions for 2017 in the January meeting, Nicki had urged that the CPA should address homelessness. Richard noted that Cambridge City Council had considerable funds to help homeless people: the CPA's task was to explain how austerity increased people's risk of homelessness.
Dan thought the CPA had to make links with other groups, including the local foodbank. He suggested the CPA could make a donation in money or goods. Richard noted that I, Daniel Blake had shown the coalition and Conservative governments had effectively annexed foodbanks to the welfare system: the better to be able to punish claimants, the state had pushed its duty to keep them from starving onto private charity. The group would have to explain this development.
Neil raised the question of what part homeless people would have in a campaign. Dan wondered how to develop a conversation about solutions. Jenny suggested that the subject should be discussed again at the next meeting.
Martin reminded the meeting that Stand Up to Racism would hold a national demonstration on Saturday 18 March. The Cambridge group would provide cheap coach transport.
The next meeting would be held at 7.30 p.m. on Wednesday 5 April, at the same venue of the River Lane Centre.
All of those present had now seen Ken Loach's film I, Daniel Blake, most at the free community screening held on 14 February by Cambridge Unite Community, supported by the Cambridge People's Assembly and Cambridge Area Momentum. The screening had been very popular, filling the Unitarian Church on Emmanuel Road to capacity. Richard recalled the format of the event: there had been an informed and informative discussion before the film, with an adviser from the Citizens' Advice Bureau. A discussion afterwards could however have helped to sharpen the screening's political point.
The meeting turned to discuss the film itself. Hilary had a friend, a student, who had interviewed welfare claimants and who testified to the drama's accuracy. She (Hilary) stressed that like the film's hero, Daniel, people could go weeks or months without benefits as they tried to get access to Employment and Support Allowance. Dan remarked that some of the real experiences he had seen reported were even more absurd than those in the drama.
Richard noted that in the last week it had been revealed that public finances were in better shape than was expected, but the pace of austerity would nevertheless not be slowed. The Conservatives' plans to cut £3.7bn from the Personal Independence Payments made to disabled people meant that some of them would see their conditions reclassified (days earlier the Conservative MP for Mid-Norfolk, George Freeman, had suggested that mental health conditions should not count as disabilities).
Neil remembered what he thought was the excellent title sequence of the film, with Daniel's work capability assessment interview heard over a black screen: a dialogue conducted not to arrive at the truth about Daniel's health, but to avoid it. Martin had said before the meeting that he found the film funny, and Neil thought that scene (played by Dave Johns as Daniel and Natalie Ann Jamieson as his assessor) was very funny at the same time it was infuriating. Hilary remarked that it was a black strain of humour; Richard thought no other kind could be found in the subject.
Neil suggested the meeting should talk about another scene from the film, which was what he called Daniel's 'proto-political' graffiti protest at the Jobcentre. He thought it would have been a jarring wish-fulfilment for a leftwing campaign or party to come to the hero's aid. But Daniel on his own had made a demand, in public, in a way that put pressure on authority. Neil took this as a hint and example for the viewer.
Dan thought the scene emphasized that stunts could be effective – the next scene was the appeal hearing Daniel had demanded – and Jenny noted that it modelled a supportive response by the other people on the street. Richard reflected that I, Daniel Blake would have been a different film if it had tried to portray political activism as Neil had imagined. Its focused concern was on the state of Britain's welfare system, which could kill someone it should be helping. The film had brought the issue to a lot of people who would not necessarily consider a socialist alternative.
Dan appreciated that the film had shown the effect of the coalition and Conservative governments' redesign of the welfare system on its staff. The system's new harshness was not their fault. It had been good to show in the character Ann (played by Kate Rutter) someone who did what she could to help Daniel, and even attended his funeral in the last scene of the film. Neil thought the film showed it was finally impossible for Ann to help: her efforts were interrupted and reprimanded by her manager. But by showing the sympathetic Ann as well as her hardened workmate Sheila (Sharon Percy), the film established that, as Dan had said, harshness was built into the system.
Dan believed that state agencies were now equally callous when people applied for British citizenship: any mistake in an applicant's paperwork and he or she would not be given a chance to correct it, but would be rejected. Richard believed however that the Conservative prime minister Theresa May still had the support of the media and of social elites.
Jenny asked what else the group could do around the film. Dan suggested that it should promote future cinema and television screenings.