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ANTI-POVERTY campaigner and footballer Marcus Rashford once again poured scorn on the government today following its hammer-blow decision to slash universal credit.
Mr Rashford, speaking after collecting an honorary degree for his work battling child poverty, warned that Britain’s poorest families will have to choose between being going hungry or being cold this winter.
Two days after the government axed the £20-a-week uplift from universal credit (UC) on which more than six million people rely, Mr Rashford recalled his own childhood when his mother faced making the same impossible choice — heating or eating.
“You know, people in households are having to decide — it reminds me of my situation when I was younger, to be fair — you’ve got to decide between are you going to eat or are you going to be warm in the house?” he said in a BBC interview.
“And these are decisions that you don’t want people to go through, never mind children, and, you know, there’s other stuff — there’s the price of fuel and electricity,” he said.
“The cost of living has definitely increased.”
Mr Rashford said the UC cut had come at a time of continuing uncertainty over the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I don’t think that the right point for it to end is when families aren’t in a stable situation,” he said.
“Otherwise, it makes no sense doing the work that we’ve done in the past only to stop doing it in possibly one of the most vital stages, which we don’t know, because the situation of the pandemic, with Covid, could change at any moment as we’ve experienced when Covid first came on the scene.”
Leaders of Britain’s 11 million pensioners warned that they too face a bleak winter.
Last winter in England and Wales there were 28,300 excess winter deaths — the difference between the number of deaths in winter months compared with summer months.
Most victims are older people who die from cold-related illnesses, mainly respiratory diseases.
National Pensioners Convention (NPC) general secretary Jan Shortt told the Morning Star: “The NPC is concerned about excess winter deaths. Last year there were 28,000, but commentators are predicting something like 60,000 for this year.
“Older people have experienced having to make decisions every day on how to spend their money, but in winter it is even more critical.
“Most times they have to decide whether to put the central heating or fire on an hour earlier or to cook a hot meal.”
Ms Shortt warned that we could expect increases in utility bills “like never seen before.”
She said: “The winter fuel allowance has been frozen for 10 years, but fuel bills have rocketed during that time.
“The government may want to blame global prices, but over time it has done nothing to mitigate the situation or even look at sustainable and green energy.”
Ms Shortt said the situation for pensioners “was the worst we have seen and with a non-listening, non-caring government, we expect more of the same.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Everyone should have enough money to live on.
“But this cut to UC will leave millions of working families worse off in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis.
“We need a social security system that helps people get back on their feet — not one that locks them in poverty.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said that if the party was in power it would maintain the £20 UC uplift temporarily until the failing system was replaced.
Government Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the government was doing all it could “to help people back into jobs.”
A working single mother lost the latest round in her legal fight yesterday against the government’s universal credit highly criticised rules for assessing earnings.
Sharon Pantellerisco won a High Court fight last year when a judge ruled the Department for Work and Pensions approach to calculating earnings for claimants who are paid on a four-weekly basis was “irrational and unlawful.”
But three Court of Appeal judges overturned that ruling after lawyers representing the DWP mounted a challenge.
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