Six million UK workers fear being replaced by robots

6th August 2018
Alex Lynn

As many as six million workers in the UK are concerned that their jobs might be taken by machines, and they are concerns that seem to be justified. The report is urging for trade unions to respond by providing more support and guidance for those with jobs at risk. 

With the rise of machines and automation across all sectors in the UK, experts have warned that this could lead to as many as 15 million jobs coming under threat of being replaced by robots over the next ten to twenty years. Furthermore it has been warned that this loss in middle income jobs has the potential to seriously exacerbate the gap between rich and poor and lead to the loss of the middle class, as well as widening the gap between the lower and upper classes.

The report comes as a commission on workers and technology has been launched by Yvette Cooper, Labour Chair of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, for the Fabian Society and the Community Trade Union. 

The commission has been formed from businesses, academics and trade unions to try and find ways to support effected people through the transition, as some companies are already cutting jobs in favour of automation, with the most affected areas expected to be Mansfield, Sunderland, and Wakefield, while London and the South East are expected to fair the best. 

After polling over one thousand people across the UK, the commission found that 37% of those surveyed were worried that their job may be taken by robots over the next decade, and of these people, only a few believed that the government or trade unions were doing anything to ensure that technology enhanced their jobs instead of taking them. 

In the past various ideas have been suggested to tackle this coming problems, including a universal basic income scheme, such as the ones undergoing a trial in Finland and the Netherlands, and a greater focus on the government for adult learning to help people whose jobs might become automated to learn new skills. But despite a number of ideas being mused upon, no solid scheme is yet in place.

The Centre for Cities thinktank, Bank of England and IPPR thinktank have all also released studies detailing forecasts for automation and the effect it will have on the UK work industry, with all three of them also predicting a loss of middle income jobs. Jobs that could be under threat of automation include secretarial, call centre, warehouse, retail and customer service jobs, all of which face automation in the coming years, leading to a large loss in available jobs in this country. 

Aiming to publish its findings in 2020, the commission plans to collect evidence from workplaces across the country over the next two years with the aim of developing an actionable plan to address the issue of the automated economy. 

Cooper stated: “It’s vital that action is taken now to make sure technology creates new better jobs and that all workers benefit from new technology. We have to make sure that automation and the digital revolution don’t widen inequality and that everyone gets the help and support they need to get on. We need to ensure that automation is an opportunity and not a threat for British workers.”

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