JANET STREET PORTER: Up to 40 per cent of High Street shops will have closed in five years" time, a Deloitte survey has predicted

If you care about the family, Dave, why not stick up for marriage



22:10 GMT, 13 May 2012

Under pressure: David Cameron

Under pressure: David Cameron

Anxious times for David Cameron — as Ed Miliband passes him in the popularity ratings, decisive action is called for.

Things are grim when a man who resembles a plasticine puppet talking out of one side of his mouth is considered hotter than a sympathetic toff who says ‘he feels our pain’.

Banging on about austerity in the Budget has been as popular with voters as a cup of cold sick. So we’ve been tipped off that this week, Dave is going to focus on the subject closest to his heart: the F-word (the family).

Great, but will he say that the best
family for kids is a married couple Very few politicians (except for
social reformers such as Iain Duncan Smith and Frank Field) want to be
brave and say marriage is the best environment in which to bring up

Families are
under attack on all sides — rising prices (private-sector pay rises
average 3 per cent, less than the cost of living) hit household budgets,
nursery places are slashed and child benefit cut. Add in a lack of care
for elderly relatives and it’s easy to see how the stresses and strains
on relationships have multiplied in recent months.

Marriage rates have halved over the past
40 years, while the number of single parents has rocketed by an average
of 26,000 a year. One in 11 couples split up before their child’s fifth
birthday — a disgusting statistic that makes me want to weep. We really
are the me-generation, putting our own interests before everything
else, including our children.

Dave’s government has done little to help working families. Child benefit is to be tapered according to earnings, which means some middle-class families will pay up to 73 per cent tax on earnings over 50,000. That’s more than the very rich. Government figures show that one in five people earning between 1 million and 5 million last year paid less than 40 per cent tax.

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The PM has to take a big breath, be brave and follow the lead set by the Marriage Foundation (set up by High Court Judge Sir Paul Coleridge) last month. First, he must make marriage attractive by giving tax breaks. I had a cup of tea with his ‘Big Society’ advisor Steve Hilton last week, and gave him this idea for free: couples who marry should sign a contract which means that in return for tax concessions, they agree to compulsory counselling should the relationship hit the buffers.

That way, more people might stay together, and marriage would be financially attractive. Handing out 100 parenting vouchers (that can be exchanged for free advice) at Boots to mums and dads who need help is a nice idea, but it’s just a bit of sticking plaster.

Dave needs to have a point of difference with Ed Miliband, and that must be a simple, straightforward endorsement of marriage. Miliband and Balls refuse to back tax breaks for married couples and whimper on about ‘discriminating’ against single parents, many of whom are single by choice.

Mr Miliband married only after his kids were born, and said that the ‘strength’ of a couple’s commitment was more important than formalising their relationship. I beg to differ, and so should Mr Cameron.

President Zuma of South Africa tells the world he believes in equal rights for women — but his interpretation of feminism is rather bizarre. How would he feel if any of his four wives married someone else and relegated him to second place Zuma has just taken his sixth bride — the third in four years (one wife committed suicide and one divorced him) and insists he paid for the lavish party himself.

South Africa’s first polygamous President (who has fathered more than 20 children) receives an official ‘spousal budget’ of 1.5 million a year, and has spent millions renovating his country house so he can visit all four wives in separate detached, thatched huts via a series of underground tunnels. We are told they will ‘rotate’ at official functions and foreign trips. More than three-quarters of South African voters (and 80 per cent of women) disagree with polygamy — does he care

Carole’s not shy or retiring

Under the spotlight: Carole Caplin

Under the spotlight: Carole Caplin

Carole Caplin (right) has given a lengthy interview to a Sunday magazine and is photographed prancing about in a whole range of designer clothes.
She says it’s her ‘final’ chat with the Press, and she’s keen to set the record straight after suffering ‘a kind of breakdown’ a couple of years ago, partially brought about by ‘constant media attention’ when she worked with Tony and Cherie Blair as their fitness coach.

Much as I want to believe Carole, I can’t. She’s made sure we know where she currently works as a trainer — surely that’s touting for business. The Caplin family are no strangers to publicity. I worked out for two years with Carole’s mother Sylvia — along with celebrity clients such as Roger Rees, Felicity Kendal and Selina Scott — at a gym in her house in Fulham.

Sylvia, a former ballet dancer, was an excellent teacher, but one day I opened a copy of the Sun to find she had given an interview and named all her clients, including me. I never went there again.

You can’t tell me Carole Caplin doesn’t relish the limelight — she even admits to bonking Gary Numan and Adam Ant. Too much information!

I’ve been interviewed for a new series on Channel 4 which compares growing up in the Fifties with how we live now. When the programme makers asked what gadgets Mum used in our terraced house in Fulham, I couldn’t think of any, except for a hand-operated mincer (that turned Sunday roast leftovers into grey-looking rissoles or shepherd’s pie) and a mangle, which wet sheets were pushed through before being hung outside in the yard.

I dimly remember being taken in a pushchair to visit the first launderette in the borough, which must have made life a lot simpler. Modern living is so different — a recent survey claims we spend 900 million a year on gadgets we don’t use. Top of the list are a fondue set, closely followed by an ice-cream maker. We are a nation of gadget-dependent junkies who can’t do DIY for toffee. The other week (in a fit of cost-cutting) we bought an old-fashioned mincer to turn leftovers into tasty meals. It’s still in the box. How did Mum manage

I’m so cosy thanks to Camilla

The Duchess of Cornwall with star of The Killing Sophie Grabol

The Duchess of Cornwall with star of The Killing Sophie Grabol

Last month, I speculated it might have been my championing of The Killing that turned Camilla on to the brilliant detective series. The Duchess of Cornwall certainly reads this column. I urged her not to wear the iconic chunky sweater she was given by the show’s star Sophie Grabol when she visited Denmark recently because anyone with a normal shape would ‘look like a tea cosy’.

This week a package arrived at Street- Porter Towers. Inside was THAT sweater and a hand-written card urging me to ‘keep my teapot warm’, followed by ‘ROLL ON KILLING SERIES 3! Best wishes, Camilla’. A practical joke First, I licked my finger and discovered the note was written with a fountain pen in black ink — only posh people do that these days.

Then, a check online confirmed it was her crest on the card. A call to Clarence House confirmed Camilla had sent the present, but sadly it’s so small it will only fit my teapot. I will be treasuring the note, though. Royalty and I have very little in common — but it’s nice to know that Camilla has good taste when it comes to telly, and a sense of humour. Mind you, she must need that living with Charles.