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Drip, drip, drip - the trickle effect is still draining the poor

Well it's nice to know that recycling is alive and well- at least among the political classes.

Remember trickle down theory? Course you do. When that nice Mrs Thatcher patiently explained if the folks at the top got richer their wealth would spill right over the edge of the trough and the (deserving) poor would find new bootstraps with which to pull themselves up.

Instead the succeeding decades have seen the rich get richer and the poor more invisible. (Unless of course they are found taking a fiver more than designated from the benefits system, in which case they will be celebrated in very large headlines in the more rabid news outlets.)

This past weekend several people in wheelchairs joined an anti-cuts demonstration near the dwelling place of the Deputy Prime Minister. You may know him as Nick Clegg, new look champion of social mobility, and latest proposer of the theory that it's wrong to suppose poverty prevents it.

He cited as evidence research done by an American academic who promptly denied he'd concluded any such thing, and suggested the junior Coalition partner had misquoted and misrepresented his findings. Heavens, and him with the advantage of a really posh education too.

But then almost all the top bananas in the current Westminster Cabinet had a really posh education, and an almost identical one at that. It has bequeathed them a collective failure of imagination as to what life is like for those whose early opportunities were minimalist by comparison.

If they had the smallest clue as to the struggles of disabled Britons whose meagre living allowance is being cut, or what daily life is like for families trying to keep a home together following redundancy, they would make fewer fatuous speeches about going through hard times together. And pause to think how much quicker the famous deficit could be reduced with a clampdown on tax avoidance and evasion.

But underpinning Clegg's remarks is a profound lack of understanding as to just how entrenched has become the polarisation between the haves and the have-nots in this country. And just how great an impact lack of opportunity has on the ability to climb up the prosperity ladder.

Every shred of evidence tells us of what effect poor health, poor diet, poor facilities, and the inability to access educational and leisure opportunities will have on subsequent attainment levels. More importantly still, we know that providing these life chances is crucial from the earliest years. Without them, the country will continue to hurtle along the road to social apartheid.

Tomorrow the report Nick Clegg himself commissioned from former Labour minister Alan Milburn – not exactly a left wing firebrand – will paint a picture of just how comprehensively mobility has been halted in its tracks.

It notes, inter alia, that the top employers fish for graduates in a very small pool, on average targeting just 19 of Britain's 115 universities with their recruitment drives – those whose student cohort is by far the least representative of society at large.

In fairness Clegg recognises the imbalance in university intakes. But, when he raised the subject of broadening the social mix of entrants, no less a figure than Tim Hands, master of Magdalen College School in Oxford, called Clegg's plea for more fairness "an old style communist creation of a closed market". Well Mr Hands knows all about closed shops that's for sure.

In fact it's been a rum old week for political mudslinging, with Tory donor and venture capitalist Adrian Beecroft, author of another commissioned government report, calling Vince Cable an old style socialist. If Clegg and Cable are the Marx and Lenin of the new world order, the UK government is surely in danger of falling off the right hand side of the planet.

Beecroft's jolly wheeze for helping social mobility along is to get rid of employment protection legislation so that firms could junk members of the workforce without all that tedious nonsense about applying a test of fairness.

Then again he didn't get where he is today – very, very wealthy – without demonstrating via private equity buyouts that sacking lots of folks leaves more room for profit.

Milburn's analysis of how employers cherry-pick graduates, goes on to note that having given jobs to those already ahead of the pack, the opportunities dangled are almost all in London or the southeast. Mobility, it seems, is as much a function of geography as social history.

I don't doubt that when Nick Clegg talks about the desirability of social mobility he has a genuine desire to see a fairer Britain emerge.

But in pursuing a deeply flawed, already discredited analysis about why the equality gap is now wider in the UK than almost any comparable democracy, he's hardly likely to speed along more equitable outcomes.

It's curious, not to say depressing, how difficult the more absurd myths are to explode. And not just in the UK. As America gears up for its presidential election, its citizenry touchingly clings to the American dream that anybody anywhere can become the occupant of the White House.

Yet the war chests amassed for Romney v Obama prove that just to get to the starting blocks in American politics you need wealth beyond the dreams of even Mr Beecroft's avarice.

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