Marcus Rashford has said the government should not be ending the universal credit uplift at a time when poor families are facing potentially their most difficult period of the pandemic amid rising costs of living.
The England footballer made a fresh intervention in the row over the withdrawal this week of the £20 uplift after he received an honorary degree for tackling child poverty.
He said he had not heard anything from contacts in the government despite the Conservative party conference being held in his home city of Manchester recently, and added: “I think if there was a time for us to be in tandem then now is probably the time.”
In an interview with BBC Breakfast, he said: “I go back to when the Covid situation first started, it was something that nobody in the country was prepared for. We didn’t know how bad it was going to be, we didn’t know how long it was going to be. And we’re still in that situation.
“So whether or not there’s going to be a spike in Covid, it’s going to affect people that … have been helped by what we’ve been doing in the recent year. I think it’s massively important because it could be the most difficult period that we’ve had so far.”
Accepting an honorary degree from the University of Manchester on Thursday, Rashford described it as a “bittersweet” moment, coming on the day after the universal credit uplift was retracted.
He used his speech at the ceremony at Old Trafford to warn that the cut meant millions of families across the UK had “lost a lifeline”.
In an interview broadcast on Friday, he said poor families could be facing their most difficult period of the pandemic, as they were being hit by rises in the cost of living and looming new fuel costs.
“People in households are having to decide – and it reminds me of my situation [as a child] – you have decide whether you eat or whether you are warm in the house. It’s a decision you don’t want people to go through, never mind children,” said Rashford, who added that food banks he worked with had also flagged up shortages.
At 23, Rashford became the youngest recipient of an honorary doctorate from the university, rewarding his campaign against child poverty. The former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who also has an honorary degree from the university, joined Rashford’s friends and family to see him receive the award from the vice-chancellor, Prof Dame Nancy Rothwell.
Rashford urged politicians to get “out into communities” like his home town of Wythenshawe, in south Manchester. He said: “Yesterday, millions of families across the UK lost a lifeline and a means of staying afloat. A move that could see child poverty rise to one in three children. For that reason, today is bittersweet. It’s time that representatives got out into communities like mine. It’s time they saw first-hand the true measure of struggle. Covid-19 can no longer be used as an excuse.”
The university announced in July last year that Rashford would receive the accolade, but it postponed the in-person ceremony because of the pandemic.
On presenting Rashford with his degree, Rothwell said: “Marcus is an exceptional young man who continues to demonstrate a sense of community and generosity that goes well beyond his years. Our university also has social responsibility at its core, and we are extremely proud to share these values with Marcus.”
Rashford waged a high-profile campaign last year to persuade the government to provide free meals to vulnerable youngsters in England throughout the school holidays during the coronavirus pandemic, forcing Boris Johnson into a U-turn.
He has backed several child food poverty incentives and became the youngest person to top the Sunday Times Giving List by raising £20m in donations from supermarkets for groups tackling the issue.
The £20-a-week increase to universal credit introduced to support people on low incomes during the pandemic has been withdrawn. From this Wednesday, benefits assessments no longer include the uplift, meaning that from Wednesday next week no monthly payments will be received that include the extra money.
The cut will be staggered as families receive payments on different dates.