England star Marcus Rashford said it felt “bittersweet” to receive an honorary doctorate for his work tackling child poverty just as the government slashed the £20 Universal Credit top-up.
Accepting the award from the University of Manchester, he said removing the temporary increase “could see child poverty rise to one-in-three children”.
Rashford called for an end to the “child hunger pandemic” – and was backed by Sir Keir Starmer, who praised is “very powerful” comments and said the government was “effectively turning on the poorest”.
He said a Labour government would retain the £20 uplift – and abolish Universal Credit entirely. “It would stay, we wouldn’t make the cut, we would then replace it with something better,” Sir Keir told the BBC.
‘Covid isn’t an excuse’
Rashford, 23, became the university’s youngest recipient of an honorary award at a special ceremony at Old Trafford stadium on Thursday.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, he said the situation many families now find themselves in “reminds me… of when I as younger”.
The Manchester United forward added: “You’ve got to decide between – are you going to eat or are you going to be warm in the house?
“These are decisions that you don’t want people to go through, never mind children.
“And there’s other stuff, the price of fuel and electricity and there’s actually a shortage of food at the moment… as some of the food banks I work with are experiencing.
“So there’s other things that people are worrying about and, if we can take one less stress off them, it’s important.”
He said receiving the award was “bittersweet” as it came as “millions of families across the UK lost a lifeline and a means of staying afloat”.
Rashford urged MPs to meet those who had benefitted from the uplift. “It’s time that representatives got out into communities like mine,” he said. “It’s time they saw first-hand the true measure of struggle.
“Covid-19 can no longer be used as an excuse.”
Food banks running out
His intervention comes as independent food banks are “running out of options” and may be unable to support people in need this winter as the cut kicks in and living expenses rise.
The Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) said members are supporting “ever-increasing” numbers of people unable to afford food and this will worsen as the £20-a-week uplift is withdrawn.
The network, which represents more than 500 UK food banks and providers, has written to leaders of the four UK nations and to the Chancellor, Work and Pensions Secretary and other ministers calling for the cut to be halted.
The letter, signed by IFAN coordinator Sabine Goodwin, reads: “The numbers of people needing emergency food aid will inevitably grow as a result.
“On top of this devastating cut in people’s incomes, energy and food prices are rising sharply, increasing the need for emergency food support yet further.”