Manchester United star Marcus Rashford said receiving an honorary doctorate for his work to tackle child poverty was “bittersweet” as it came as the £20 top-up to universal credit ended.
Accepting the award from the University of Manchester, he said removing the temporary increase “could see child poverty rise to one-in-three children”.
No 10 said the top-up was designed to help in the pandemic’s toughest times.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer praised Mr Rashford’s “very, very powerful” comments and said the government was now “effectively turning on the poorest”.
He promised a Labour government would retain the £20 uplift pending an overhaul of the benefits system, including the abolition of universal credit.
“It would stay, we wouldn’t make the cut, we would then replace it with something better,” he said.
Mr Rashford, 23, became the university’s youngest recipient of an honorary award at a special ceremony at his club’s Old Trafford stadium on Thursday.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, he said the situation many now found themselves in “reminds me of… when I was younger”.
The England 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.”
Mr Rashford said receiving the honorary doctorate was “bittersweet” since it came as “millions of families across the UK lost a lifeline and a means of staying afloat”.
The £20-a-week increase to universal credit, which was brought in to support those on low incomes during the pandemic, was withdrawn on Tuesday.
Mr Rashford urged MPs to meet those who had been receiving the increased benefit.
“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.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told BBC Breakfast: “If you want to carry on with that uplift you need to find £6bn from somewhere.
“Inevitably that means taxing people on their PAYE, maybe putting the cost of fuel up even more, even though it’s at record levels or something else.
“Nothing is free when you’re making these decisions.”
In June 2020, Mr Rashford called on the government to reverse a decision not to provide free school meal vouchers, saying that “the system isn’t built for families like mine to succeed”.
He was later made an MBE for services to vulnerable children.
In September, it was announced pupils starting media studies GCSEs would study the impact of his campaigning.
Author and broadcaster Lemn Sissay, the university’s chancellor, said Mr Rashford being honoured was a “highlight” of his tenure.
Manchester United’s former manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who was previously honoured by the university, joined Mr Rashford’s family and friends at the ceremony.
The striker said “to be in the presence of a great such as Sir Alex”, and the people who had “played a huge role in my journey” was “special”.
Manchester United’s chief operating officer Collette Roche said the club was “so proud”.
“He is a young man who embodies everything which this club stands for,” she said.
“He is humble, he is passionate and he is driven to succeed in everything he does.”
A Downing Street spokesperson said the universal credit top-up was always a “temporary measure, designed to help claimants through the toughest stages of the pandemic”.
“But we are now seeing our economy starting to bounce back so our focus is rightly on helping people back into high-quality, well-paid jobs,” they said.
- The full interview with Marcus Rashford will air on BBC Breakfast on BBC One and BBC iPlayer from 06: 00 BST on Friday.
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