Marcus Rashford has said it felt “bittersweet” to collect his honorary degree for tackling child poverty the day after the universal credit uplift was retracted.
The England footballer used his speech at the University of Manchester ceremony at Old Trafford to highlight how the government’s cut meant “millions of families across the UK lost a lifeline”.
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The £20-a-week increase to universal credit introduced to support people on low incomes during the pandemic has been withdrawn.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.