After suffering a major heart attack, former carpenter Daniel Blake seeks Employment and Support Allowance. However, while his doctors tell him that he must not return to work, the government's less accurate test states that he is fit for work and his only choice for benefits is Job Seekers Allowance, a benefit that requires he proves he's been looking for work. At the job center he meets Katie, a young woman with two children (Daisy and Dylan) facing a similar issue, and the two try to cut through the red tape.
The film contains examples of:
- Beleaguered Bureaucrat: Ann, the only bureaucrat in the movie who actually cares about the people she's trying to help, is rendered ineffectual by inane rules that confound even her.
- Chekhov's Gun: Daniel's heart condition eventually gives him a fatal heart attack.
- Disappeared Dad: Daisy and Dylan have separate fathers, both of whom ran out on them.
- Downer Ending: The film ends with Daniel suffering a fatal heart attack moments before he can finally get his benefits sorted, Katie remaining a prostitute, her children losing the closest they ever had to a father figure and the system that was at least partially responsible for his death is no way held to account.
- Grey-and-Gray Morality: Nobody is perfect and nobody is horrible either.
- Hopeless with Tech: Daniel has never used a computer before, and a librarian has to explain to him how the mouse works. This is quickly Played for Drama once he's told that he has to apply online, making his application even more difficult.
- I, Noun: The title, I, Daniel Blake, referring to the protagonist.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Downplayed. Katie and Daniel are not really jerks but they can be triggered and have caused a scene throughout several points of the film. They otherwise are still normal, good people.
- No Periods, Period: Averted. Katie asks for sanitary towels in the food bank and resorts to stealing them as they don't have any. Unfortunately, this is Truth in Television for many women who depend on food bank donations.
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: No one who Daniel talks to is actually able help him in any real way, and that's if they care about his situation in the first place.
- Oop North: Set and filmed in Newcastle in the North-East of England.
- Serious Business: Both Daniel and the people working at the job center have different ideas about how serious aspects of the application are. The workers don't treat Daniel's heart condition with any seriousness, while Daniel looks like he's not taking the job search seriously when he hands in a handwritten CV.
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Daniel dies moments before he can finally sort out his benefits issue.
- Single Mom Stripper: Katie eventually becomes one out of desperation, and still is as of the film's ending.
- White-and-Grey Morality: Katie, Daniel, and most people in this movie are normal, everyday good people. Everyone is at least a little sympathetic and understandable.