I was talking to a friend who works in advertising recently. He was bemoaning the coming recession and the expected crisis in his industry.
‘You may laugh,’ he said, ‘but whenever there is a recession, it is people like us who are hit first.’
I laughed but he carried on anyway.
‘We’re not really an essential industry,’ he said, waiting for me to disagree. When I didn’t, he continued: ‘So we go first. When things are tight – people think “do we really need another advert for pizza?”’
‘Well, you can see their point,’ I dare to suggest quietly.
‘People need pizza adverts,’ he cried. ‘Otherwise they won’t know about any new pizza developments.’
‘That is a worry,’ I said
‘Exactly,’ he said. Misunderstanding me.
As far as I can make out, one of the first signs of a recession is that rich people carry on getting rich but do it more slowly.
The second sign is that the pace of getting rich slows to such an extent that, to carry on getting rich, they need to do something distasteful to poorer people. I don’t mean make them wear acrylic. I mean put up prices, for example. Or cut wages or jobs.
The third sign is that rich people stop getting richer and, to make sure they don’t get poorer, they get together with other rich people and tell politicians to cut back on public spending, mess around with interest rates or do something else that manipulates the economy to preserve their wealth.
Given that everyone is telling us that we are heading for a proper recession, we can understand why my advertising mate is a bit nervous. At a guess he isn’t the only one. There are people in shops that sell ceramic cats bracing themselves as we speak. And the people who make customised serviettes, they’re nervous too.
And oddly, so are those of us who work in or around the health service.
Because we know that when anything called a ‘recession’, a ‘downturn’ or even a ‘blip’ is coming, it isn’t just the peripheral or luxury industries that feel the pinch. It is the most important one as well. Health. We have seen it a hundred times before. When a downturn comes, every two or three years, it is the health service that feels it first. Quite simply, it should be the thing that feels it last.
One of the great myths of modernisation was that there would be a sustained investment in the NHS. That, in the new age of New Labour, new ways of working, higher standards and equity of service would drive the NHS, regardless of outside influence. What a load of old bunkum.
The NHS should be immune to the vagaries of the American housing market. We are wealthy enough to protect the things that matter most. Advertising and ceramic cats can go with the flow – investment in the health service can’t.