By Laura Parnaby, PA
Football star Marcus Rashford has said it felt “bittersweet” collecting his honorary degree for tackling child poverty the day after the Universal Credit uplift was retracted in the UK.
The England player 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 years old, the Manchester United forward became the youngest recipient of an honorary doctorate from the university, rewarding his campaign against child poverty.
Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who also has an honorary degree from the university, joined Mr Rashford’s friends and family to see him receive the award from vice-chancellor Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell.
Speaking at the ceremony donned in a red, maroon and gold graduation gown with a doctorate cap, Mr Rashford also urged politicians to get “out into communities” like his home town of Wythenshawe in south Manchester.
He 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.
“I’m here to receive my honorary doctorate for my workaround child poverty.
“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 of Manchester announced Mr Rashford would receive the accolade in July last year, but postponed the in-person ceremony because of the pandemic.
On presenting Mr Rashford with his degree, Dame Nancy 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.
“It really is an honour to finally present him with this well-deserved award on behalf of our institution.
“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. Long may it continue.”
Mr Rashford waged a high-profile campaign last year to persuade the UK government to provide free meals to vulnerable youngsters in England throughout the school holidays during the coronavirus pandemic, forcing British prime minister 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 £20 million (€17 million) in donations from supermarkets for groups tackling the issue.