The Conservatives and Labour should promise to set up a prevention unit in government if they want to stop "treading water" on tackling homelessness in the UK, according to Lord John Bird.

The Big Issue founder, who had run-ins with the police in his early life, told IBTimes UK that Prime Minister Theresa May was "incredibly receptive" when he explained the plan during a 45-minute-long private meeting in March.

"Of all the prime ministers that I have spoken to, which she is the fourth [Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron], she was only one I thought was actually listening to me. I thought the others were intrigued by the fact that I was an ex-rogue," the crossbench peer said.

"When you meet a prime minister and they are thoughtfully listening to what you are saying, and then you make the point that the National Health Service really needs to be a health service, not a 'I'll get you back to health' service. Then you think to yourself this is the prime minister who is going to make it work."

Bird explained that his proposed government team would investigate how to stop people going into prison, look at ways people are slipping into bad health and examine failing schools.

"We didn't get round to it, but one of the things that I wanted to say [to May] was that when people receive social security, it should always be on the basis that they should be legally obliged to put their children through the school system," he added.

The unit, not dissimilar to the Behavioural Insights Team established in 2010 to improve government policy and services, also apparently has the backing of Labour's Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

"I told him that I was going to see [May] to talk about a prevention unit. He said 'you can count me in]. He said 'you can tell [May] that the Labour Party would be very interested in anything in that'," Bird said.

"There are signs that there may be a cross-party move to us realising that unless we are stopping homelessness happening, then we are really treading water."

The call for the prevention unit comes just a month before the general election on 8 June. The Conservatives and Labour have not published their manifestos yet.