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Marcus Rashford takes on government over universal credit cut

The England and Manchester United footballer wants ministers to keep the £20 increase and create a long-term plan to tackle the ‘child hunger pandemic’

Marcus Rashford has called on MPs to come up with a long-term plan to end the “child hunger pandemic” as he becomes the latest campaigner to call for the £20 universal credit cut to be axed.

The England and Manchester United footballer relaunched his child food poverty campaign as MPs returned to parliament following recess, urging the public to write to their local representative ahead of next month’s Spending Review.

Rashford urged his supporters to back his call to expand eligibility for free school meals and Healthy Start vouchers as well as long-term funding for school holiday programmes. He also sent a warning against a cut to social security, just weeks before the £20 increase introduced during the pandemic is set to end.

“Whilst we’ve come a long way in the last 20 months, placing the issue of child food poverty at the forefront, devastatingly, the issue is getting worse not better,” said Rashford, who called rising hunger the “child hunger pandemic” on Twitter.

“The entire nation got behind the national team this summer so let’s put these figures in football terms:

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“You can fill 27 Wembley stadiums with the 2.5 million children that are struggling to know where their next meal might be coming from today.

“What is it going to take for these children to be prioritised? Instead of removing support through social security, we should be focusing efforts on developing a sustainable long-term roadmap out of this child hunger pandemic.”

In his latest rallying cry, Rashford cited figures from the Food Foundation that found 15 per cent of children have experienced food insecurity in the past six months while food price have also been consistently higher.

The footballer turned activist urged his supporters to back three recommendations from Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy.

Rashford wants expanded free school meal eligibility to included all children aged seven to 18 who live in a household earning less than £20,000 after benefits and to children who are undocumented. Rashford also wants children living under the no recourse to public funds condition which means they do not have access to state support due to their immigration status – to be included.

Similarly, Rashford also wants greater eligibility for Healthy Start vouchers, which provide support for young families and increased in value this year thanks to the footballer’s efforts. He also called for a communications campaign to increase awareness and uptake of the scheme. 

The final recommendation saw Rashford call for long-term funding for the UK government’s Holiday Activities and Food Programme as well as increasing eligibility.

After his child food poverty campaign caused government U-turns over feeding children during school holidays and inspired communities across the UK to step in to provide food, Rashford is now hoping to replicate the campaign’s impact.

“I hope that we see the required investment pledged during the autumn Spending Review,” Rashford added. “I will be writing to my MP about it, and I would encourage you all to do the same.

“It will take many of us to stand together on this, and show we care about reaching those most in need in our communities.”

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Anna Taylor, executive director of Food Foundation, also backed Rashford’s call for a long-term plan, warning leaving child food poverty untackled would lead to higher obesity rates, levels of diabetes and other health inequalities.

“This will only get worse if left unaddressed and entrench inequalities deeper,” said Taylor.

Rashford’s stance against cutting support through social security sees him become the latest campaigner to come out against the end of the £20 universal credit increase on October 6.

Last week 100 organisations – including The Big Issue – signed an open letter from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation to Prime Minister Boris Johnson warning the cut would “fundamentally undermine the government’s mission to level up”.

Meanwhile, human rights NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) also sent an open letter to MPs warning the cut would be “a human rights violation”

“The cut to universal credit would do immense harm,” Kartik Raj, HRW Western Europe researcher, told The Big Issue. “The pile of evidence of the projected impact of the cut on the basic human rights of people – having enough money and food to simply get by – is huge. 

“The evidence merits more than glib, repeated soundbites about “getting people back into work.” Keeping the lifeline would be doing the right thing.”

A government spokesperson said the universal credit increase “was always temporary” and has “helped claimants through the economic shock and financial disruption of the toughest stages of the pandemic”.

Hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of losing their homes right now. One UK household is being made homeless every three-and-a-half hours.

You can help stop a potential avalanche of homelessness by joining The Big Issue’s Stop Mass Homelessness campaign. Here’s how:

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