Workplace automation risks widening rich-poor gap in Britain, report warns


LONDON, Dec. 29 (Xinhua) — Robots and automation may significantly boost the British economy, but may widen the rich-poor gap as many workers lose out, a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) said Thursday.

The IPPR estimated in its report that 44 percent of jobs in the British economy could feasibly be automated, the equivalent of more than 13.7 million people who together earn nearly 400 billion U.S. dollars.

At the same time, automation in the workplace could raise productivity growth by between 0.8 percent and 1.4 percent annually, giving a significant boost to economic growth in Britain.

The think-tank report said unless the rise of the machine economy is properly managed by the government, there is a danger that the benefits will be narrowly concentrated in the hands of investors and small numbers of highly skilled workers, while the rest lose out.

The report also said that as automation threatens jobs, there is a risk of social disruption by widening the gap between rich and poor in Britain.

Mathew Lawrence, a senior research fellow at the IPPR, said, “Managed badly, the benefits of automation could be narrowly concentrated, benefiting those who own capital and highly skilled workers. Inequality would spiral.”

The report warned middle-income jobs such as call-center workers, secretaries and factory workers are likely to be eliminated.

Low-skilled workers could also lose their jobs or face fewer hours from greater levels of automation.

At the same time the highest earners and workers who can be retrained will gain higher pay thanks to rising productivity.

IPPR research fellow Carys Roberts said the jobs most at risk of automation were disproportionately based in poorer areas of Britain and held by women and those from ethnic minorities.

“Some people will get a pay rise while others are trapped in low-pay, low-productivity sectors. To avoid inequality rising, the government should look at ways to spread capital ownership, and make sure everyone benefits from increased automation,” she said.

Responding to the report, a spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said advances in technology were helping to bring new jobs.

“The government is working closely with industry to ensure the benefits of new technologies are felt across different sectors of the economy up and down the country, while creating new high-skill, well-paid jobs,” the spokesperson said.