Rashford on Universal Credit cut

Footballer uses award ceremony as platform

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Marcus Rashford described his award of an honorary doctorate from Manchester University as a “bittersweet moment”, coming the day after the government cut Universal Credit last week.

The Manchester United and England football star, who has proved an effective anti-poverty campaigner, used his speech at the award ceremony at Old Trafford to warn that the end of the £20 uplift in Universal Credit meant “millions of families across the UK lost a lifeline and a means of staying afloat”.

Covid is not an excuse

At 23, Rashford became youngest recipient of an honorary doctorate from Manchester University, the highest award it can make.

The university said it was recognition for his charity work and well-publicised campaign against child poverty. But although he forced a government u-turn last year when it planned to cut free school meals for vulnerable young people during the school holidays, he said last week he had not heard from government contacts about his concerns over the Universal Credit cut.

“It’s time representatives got out into communities like mine,” said Rashford. “It’s time they saw first hand the true measure of struggle. Covid-19 can no longer be used as an excuse.”

Government unrepentant

Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson – who also holds an honorary doctorate from the university – was at the Old Trafford ceremony. Rashford said: “To be here in the presence of a great such as Sir Alex, and those who have played a huge role in my journey to be where I am today, is special.”

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, Manchester University vice-chancellor and president, claimed it shared values of social responsibility with Rashford.

“His ongoing charity work and high-profile campaigns not only help millions of people across the country but inspire many more to try and make a difference themselves,” said Rothwell. “Long may it continue.”

Collette Roche, Manchester United’s chief operating officer, described Rashford as “an exceptional footballer and an exceptional person”, who is humble, passionate and driven to succeed.

She said: “Those qualities have shone through in his work to champion the needs of young people, to tackle food poverty and to deliver real change which has helped thousands of families across the country when they needed it most.”

The government remains unrepentant about ending the £20 increase in Universal Credit introduced during the pandemic. Insisting it was only meant to be temporary, ministers made a number of hardline statements defending the cut during the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.

But the Joseph Rowntree Foundation warns that the cut will pull half a million people into poverty, including 200,000 children.

In an interview with BBC Breakfast last week, Rashford said: “People in households are having to decide – and it reminds me of my situation [growing up] – you have to 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.”

Photo: Rebecca Lupton

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