Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham (Lab) has urged the government to stop the roll out of the universal credit benefit scheme.
The call came as plans were unveiled to help up to 200 homeless people in Greater Manchester get accommodation and intensive support with the aid of a £1.8m social impact bond.
One of Mr Burnham’s key manifesto pledges was to end rough sleeping in the region.
Members of Greater Manchester’s reform board, comprising Mr Burnham, local authority chief executives and senior officers from fire, police and health services, said halting the rollout of the universal credit scheme would be fundamental to reducing rough sleeping and homelessness across the city region.
Mr Burnham said: “This is not a political point. I am speaking for the entire board – the entire public sector in Greater Manchester – when I make this plea to the prime minister and government. You must suspend the roll out of the universal credit benefit.
“It was a unanimous view in the meeting that universal credit will make the homeless and rough sleeping problem here dramatically worse. I say in all sincerity, please listen and put it on hold. If it goes ahead as planned we will see a much greater problem unfold in front of our eyes.”
At Conservative Party conference, held in Manchester last week, work and pensions secretary David Gauke said the government will press ahead with its planned rollout of universal credit but added his department would to reissue guidance to frontline staff to provide advance payments to claimants in financial difficulties.
The £1.8m social impact bond – a government-backed bond using money provided by the private sector to deliver improvements – will be used to create a new homelessness service, due to start by the end of October. It will help people find and keep a home and job, or gain training and education. Users will also get intensive support and access to specialist mental health and addiction services.
Other parts of the public sector have also made commitments to help reduce homelessness and do more to work together to tackle the issue.
Mr Burnham, who contributes 15% of his £110,000 annual salary to his homelessness fund, said: “This is a crisis unfolding before our eyes and will only be solved if we work as one and bring the contribution of public, private and voluntary sectors together. We have to think differently and try new ideas and ways of improving the lives of hundreds of people who don’t have a home to call their own.”
Mr Burnham’s homelessness fund has already provided grants of more than £30,000, including support for a 15-bed homeless hostel in Cheetham Hill, Manchester.