MY son’s school is collecting for a local food bank.

“What’s a food bank?” he asks. The lengthy explanation causes some confusion.

Of course, we should support our local food bank and we will, but the extent to which this fairly recent phenomenon has become completely normalised is worth registering.

It’s become routine to assume that large sections of the population rely on charity to avoid complete destitution. In Britain in 2023 grotesque poverty is just normal.

We used to call it Blue Peter Politics. Fundraising and charity for “good causes” was routine. It was usually abroad, normally Africa. Now the charitable causes are next door. It’s your friends and neighbours. It could be you that’s the subject of a random act of kindness next.

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Many of us are living so precariously close to the poverty line, or already struggling in it. A while back we started calling us the “just about managing”.

I remember lying in the bath reading when the lights went out. My pre-paid meter had run out. It was winter and the flat was cold. The challenge was to get the card topped up and the heating and lighting back on before the kids came back from school. I wasn’t alone.

More than seven million households in Britain have one. Now MPs have called for a ban on forced installations of prepayment meters amid fears that elderly and vulnerable people are being effectively cut off from heating and power supplies.

The SNP MP Anne McLaughlin said: “I support the cause to have a moratorium on forced installation. It’s morally repugnant that companies can do that to people and they abdicate responsibility by calling it self-disconnection. As if the person has any agency over it: if you don’t have money, you don’t have any agency over it ... The Government needs to introduce an immediate moratorium.”

McLaughlin has sponsored a private member’s bill that requires energy companies to allow a grace period before disconnecting customers with prepayment meters who have run out of credit, granting them extended emergency credit for six months.

This doesn’t seem enough. Last year, anti-poverty campaigners called for an immediate ban on pre-payment meter (PPM) installations made under court warrants because of fears that energy suppliers are using them to disconnect the poorest, most indebted customers “by the back door”.

The End Fuel Poverty Coalition said transferring households onto PPMs, which require regular top-ups and charge for energy at a higher rate, often prompted people in debt to “self-disconnect”.

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The language is cute, the euphemisms are tired. Kerry Hudson, author of Lowborn, writes: “In November the End Fuel Poverty Coalition ... and some local councils called for a moratorium on forcibly switching people who have fallen behind on their bills this winter. The argument was that it would lead to ‘self-disconnecting’ – that is, when you have already used your small amount of emergency credit and have no money to top up.

“To me, describing having no money for heat or light as ‘self-disconnecting’ is like calling having no money for food a hunger strike.”

CITIZENS Advice research showed that 3.2 million people ran out of credit on their meter in 2022 as the cost of living crisis left families struggling to keep the lights on.

That means that one person is being cut off from their energy supply every 10 seconds as millions of people cannot afford to top up their prepayment meter).

Nor is the Government help being accessed. In December, The Guardian reported: “Up to half a million of the UK’s most vulnerable families have been left without government help to pay their energy bills since October, with an estimated 1.3 million vouchers for homes with prepayment meters either lost, delayed or unclaimed.

“Households have missed out on an estimated £80m of government help during the two months since the scheme launched according to Guardian analysis of data from the top-up company PayPoint and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.”

A moratorium on forced installation has to be supported, but it also feels inadequate. Private companies maximising profit through the courts is just predatory capitalism.

Pre-paid meters are morally repugnant and pretending they are a solution is just doublespeak.

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Hudson again: “The trouble with this is that a prepayment meter is a more expensive way to pay for energy ... If people are in debt because they can’t afford to pay for energy, a plan that insists that they pay for energy at a higher rate while they pay off their debts seems doomed to fail.”

Like food banks, fuel poverty has gone from the relative fringes to your own home, and for those who have been languishing in the crisis for years or even generations, they are asking: “where were you back then?” It’s a fair question.

The social and economic crisis is deepening, and the fact that government(s) seem to have little or no credible response is sinking in. If a government cannot – or will not – protect its citizens from the worst ravages of economic exploitation, the social contract fails.

Providing the conditions for homes that you can live in and income that you can feed yourself on is not an ambitious target. It’s 2023.

Despite a decades-long culture war on the poor, the media demonising those on benefits and relentless attacks on trade unions and striking workers, the support for public sector action seems to be holding up.

Perhaps the reality of food banks in hospitals is just an injustice too far, a sick cruelty that people can’t stand. Solidarity is here at last.

The propaganda – to frame people as “scroungers” or to divide and conquer by separating the “deserving and the undeserving poor” or to vilify striking workers as militants – isn’t working. People don’t buy it anymore. The end result of 13 years of Tory corruption and misrule is solidarity and anger.

Normalising poverty was a political choice, and people have realised that. When we get them out, there’s a whole society to repair, and we’ll need more than a moratorium.