Mr Cleverly faced a barrage of criticism on social media after saying Ken Loach’s Bafta-winning drama was “not a documentary” and “a work of fiction”.
The MP for Braintree later posted a lengthy rebuttal, saying that while the welfare system is “far from perfect” the film is a “political polemic” that is unfair on Job Centre workers.
The Twitter row erupted as it emerged the next phase of the Government’s flagship welfare reform will be overhauled following widespread criticism of its planned roll-out.
Released to critical acclaim in 2016, I, Daniel Blake tells the story of a 59-year-old joiner who falls into extreme poverty after his benefits are stopped.
After picking up his Bafta in 2017, Loach thanked the Academy for “endorsing the truth of what the film says”.
The film, which also picked up the prestigious Palme D’Or at Cannes, was shown on BBC Two on Saturday night and a number of Labour figures encouraged television viewers to tune in.
Among them was shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey, who tweeted: “If anyone is in any doubt of the human cost of Tory austerity on our communities please watch I, Daniel Blake tonight.”
Mr Cleverly responded to her: “You do realise that it’s not a documentary, don’t you. Don’t you?”
Nearly 4,000 comments were posted in reply to his tweet, while Labour Party chairman Ian Lavery accused the Conservative of lacking “any sort of humility”.
He tweeted: “(Cleverly) lives in a parallel universe hidden from the realities facing thousands of honest UK citizens, struggling to survive the callousness of austerity imposed by his merciless Gvt. Instead of mocking try some compassion, too much to ask?.”
Labour front-bencher Tracy Brabin, who entered the Commons after a career in television, also hit out at Mr Cleverly’s characterisation of the film.
She wrote on Twitter: “@JamesCleverly when I was a screenwriter I couldn’t write anything until I understood the truth from all angles. To do that I did extensive research. #IDanielBlake is a dramatisation of ordinary people’s lived experience. For you to challenge that proves how disconnected you are.”
Mr Cleverly later returned to Twitter to post a string of tweets in which he defended his comments.
He said: “I Daniel Blake, is a powerful and moving film. But it is a political polemic and is particularly unfair on the public sector professionals who work in Job Centre Plus, in my experience they are proactive and helpful. Completely at odds with their portrayal in the film.
“Citing this film as “proof” of how the benefits system works, as a number of Labour MPs have done, is simply wrong.”
He accepted that the benefits system is “far from perfect, can be intimidating and mistakes can have devastating consequences”.
But he added: “The system we inherited from Labour was complicated, full of perverse penalties and claw-backs.
“The changes brought in since 2010 including the National Living Wage, Universal Credit, increased personal allowance, freezes to fuel duty etc have been designed to simplify the system and help people get into work and keep more of the money they earn.”
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