Mulling on last week's debates about social mobility, I think it was all a bit lop-sided. Most of the discussion was about education, early intervention, and entry into university. Which is all fine, but tiptoes around something pretty massive: jobs.
It's easiest to explain why using a graph. It's taken from Working Futures, the official central forecasts and tracking for employment across the UK. It shows the trend in absolute numbers of different types of job, with projections to 2020:
A greater number of professional jobs is arguably a form of absolute social mobility (as, for example, Matthew Taylor defines it) - effectively when the total number of 'middle class' jobs expands. I'm not sure that we're seeing an expanding middle class, but it's certainly where commentary seems to have focussed, looking on the numbers of free-school meal children who get into Oxbridge, or the numbers of comp-educated kids becoming judges. I think this is in effect a narrowing of the debate, and the scope of social mobility. It means we dwell on access to the very top white-collar jobs, rather than think more generally about whether people across society can work their way up by their own efforts.
For understanding what's happening there, look at the decline in numbers employed in skilled trades. Without getting misty-eyed, these occupations are traditionally likely to provide progression. Someone could leave school and go into a trade with the realistic prospect of gradually increasing skills, seniority and wages over time.
Now, having a decent job itself clearly isn't quite the same as being socially mobile. But the increasing rarity of jobs that allow advancement is a massive challenge, and it seems odd to consider mobility without acknowledging this hollowing-out of the labour market.
And that's my point. We should definitely be debating and refining social mobility as a concept. The Government - especially Nick Clegg and Michael Gove – deserve credit for keeping it in the public eye, as does Opposition Leader, Ed Miliband. But if we don't think about the availability and quality of work, we'll never completely understand why someone who is born poor, stays poor.