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Marcus Rashford calls for universal credit cut to be axed

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Jon Super/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Jon Super/Reuters

Marcus Rashford has urged the government to abandon its plan to cut the universal credit uplift within days and demanded ministers tackle what he called a “child hunger pandemic”.

The England and Manchester United footballer, who last year forced Boris Johnson into a U-turn on free school meals, urged voters to write to their MPs before the £20 boost is scrapped on 6 October.

“Instead of removing vital support, we should be focusing on developing a long-term roadmap out of this child hunger pandemic,” he said. “On 6 October, millions lose a lifeline. It’s a move that Child Poverty Action Group says will raise child poverty to one in three.”

Charities have said ending the uplift will force hundreds of thousands of families into poverty, its effect exacerbated by the rising prices of food and energy.

Ministers are understood to be examining a £1bn-a-year increase in benefit payments to cushion the impact of the £6bn-a-year cut in universal credit. The uplift was introduced to help struggling families through the Covid pandemic.

Rashford, 23, has stepped up his campaign against child hunger in the run-up to the government’s spending review on 27 October. He is calling on ministers to expand free school meal eligibility to all children aged seven to 18 in households earning £20,000 or less after benefits – up from £7,400 a year before benefits currently – and to include undocumented children and those with “no recourse to public funds” under the immigration system.

The Manchester-born footballer also wants the government to provide long-term funding for food and activities during school holidays and expand the Healthy Start voucher scheme to households earning £20,000 or less after benefits.

Anna Taylor, the executive director of the Food Foundation, which is working with Rashford, said food insecurity was “surging and is set to get a lot worse”.

She said: “It takes its toll not just on the wellbeing of children, but also on wider society. Getting ahead of this crisis is the litmus test of the government’s ambition to level up.

“Stopping the cut to universal credit and extending free school meals to poor children who currently miss out would provide a minimum protection for at-risk children. It is baffling that currently the government is planning neither. That’s why it is so important that everyone gets their voices heard and asks their MP to support this in the forthcoming spending review.”

Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, on Sunday defended the planned universal credit cut, saying salaries were rising faster than the cost of living and that the government needed to rein in spending from the pandemic.

Related: Ministers consider plan to ease £20-a-week universal credit cut

He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show: “I think most people recognise that if it’s brought in for the pandemic, it’s going to end as we move back to people going back to work and more normal times. We can’t keep all these things in place, otherwise you’d have to put several pennies on income tax to pay for the policy to run.”

Labour estimates the cut will remove more than £2.5bn from local economies in the north of England and the Midlands, including well over £1bn in “red wall” seats that have traditionally voted Labour but were recently won by the Conservatives.

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