THE smooth course of inequality in the UK is often conducted on bare numbers and the sprightliness of the English language. In places you can choose to turn up the volume of a report where it seems to resonate most profoundly with your political agenda. At any given time there can be several extant reports claiming to provide a picture of inequality and deprivation by measuring a well-worn collection of social indicators.

The recently-published report by Liverpool University into deprivation looked at car ownership as well as more familiar barometers such as unemployment, mortality rates and health outcomes. Some commentators on the left have often reached for the reassuringly solid statistic of 250,000 Scottish children living in poverty. Too rarely do we dig down into the complex patterns of social circumstances as they affect individuals and their living arrangements to provide anything more than a snapshot of a time and place.

The surfeit of reports into poverty and the way that we deploy terminology to convey their headline conclusions, I think, provides right-wing analysts an escape route from the naked injustice that always lies at the heart of such numbers. They give succour to the money-changers and profiteers and their supporters who inhabit Westminster. Is there a point at which deprivation ends and mere poverty begins and is social exclusion something else entirely? If ‘multi-deprivation’ is a thing then can’t mere ‘deprivation’ be rendered something almost acceptable? And surely if all these evils exist then the educational attainment gap is a footling thing indeed when set against them and our efforts to reduce them. A reasonable person can’t surely expect all of them to be tackled. Let’s just take one at a time and we’ll get round to the others in ‘due course’; this elastic measure being the favoured unit of time in British politics.

Last year the Institute of Fiscal Studies released its latest report on UK living standards and concluded that the gap between the country’s richest and poorest households had narrowed since the great recession caused by the 2008 banking crisis. This was largely attributed to rising employment and sharp falls in income in middle and top earning households. Cheerfully ignoring this codicil, the right-wing press and the Tory Government relaxed, took off their shoes and began to look at their stocks and shares in the FT.

Digging further down it was discovered that a decline in the incomes of top earners in the financial services industry had narrowed the gap between them and the merely affluent. Following an unbroken succession of annual £10m salaries, with bonuses, a few thousand city analysts and hedge fund managers were made to endure the distress occasioned by having to endure a £5m year. Thus the waters inhabited by the rich and the merely thriving had grown turbid and a little more unpredictable. Below these, though, in the dark pools inhabited by the poorest, the waters remained still and dark as they always do. No matter; the headline numbers that spoke of reduced inequality would do; the heat was off. And aren’t we all living longer with better healthcare and more choices and hasn’t the minimum wage risen and increased employment occurred?

The Equality Trust in its 2016 findings illustrated the folly of the right’s complacency about living standards. These showed that the top 1% “had incomes substantially higher than the rest of those in the top 10%. In 2012, the top 1% had an average income of £253,927 and the top 0.1% had an average income of £919,882.” It also found that households in the bottom 10% of the population had on average a net income of £9,644.

While our current constitutional arrangements exist in the UK don’t expect this pattern ever to change. Far from striving to reduce inequality, as all UK governments purport to do, they have lately weaponised it. For, while inequality and widespread deprivation persists so does it become easier to advance a narrative which makes enemies of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers. Yet, as the Liverpool University research showed, many of those communities enduring the most intense patterns of disadvantage had been doing so for centuries and long before the Tories and Tommy Robinson had begun to hang it around the necks of immigrants.

Inequality can’t be measured solely in numbers and money; it flourishes within a prescribed and carefully-cultivated state of mind. If you stomach a little here and there you can be made to stomach it anywhere. On Tuesday the UK’s financial regulator, a body with fewer teeth than Nanny McPhee and none of the magic, ruled that no action would be taken against the Royal Bank of Scotland over the way it harried thousands of small businesses to their deaths. The favoured tactic of its global restructuring group was to force small firms to the verge of ruin and then profit by selling off their properties. It was characteristic of the conduct of the banking industry generally over the course of the 2008 crash and beyond.

Only a handful of bankers have been jailed for this and none of the other penalties have even hit the sides of the vast pots of wealth they possess. Last week it was revealed that the Leave side during the EU referendum violated electoral law by knowingly crashing through spending limits: they were fined £61,000, a sum that wouldn’t pay the overtime bill for Jacob Rees-Mogg's nanny.

Let’s all settle down, though. After all, we busted a benefits crime ring and we come down hard on false claimants of universal credit. We allow spikes to be installed in our shop doorways to deter homeless people and throw hundreds of refugees and their children onto the streets rather than have them stay one more day than they’re allowed. And then we send them all back to an uncertain future caused by our historic rape and pillage of their countries of origin and our indifference to the despots who learned to do the same at Britain’s feet.

In Britain you don’t have to be innocent to escape justice and the law, just rich and well-connected.