While automation won’t cause mass unemployment, it could boost inequality by shifting work towards creative and decision-making occupations, a UK think tank said.
The Institute for Public Policy Research estimates that while the takeover of computers and robots could lift UK economic output 10% by 2030, thanks to productivity gains, the brunt of the shift is likely to be felt in the low-skilled segment, whose annual pay amounts to £290bn ($390bn) a year. Low-wage jobs are five times more likely to fall by the wayside than better-salaried posts, and without remedial government policies, the result to society would probably be a less equal distribution of wealth, income and power.
“Most jobs will likely be reallocated rather than eliminated, economic output will increase, and new sources of wealth will be created,” the report found. “And so the biggest challenge that automation brings will be in the fair distribution of its rewards.”
Automation may help solve Britain’s productivity puzzle after years of weak gains in output per worker. Weak investment in the past means the UK has room to catch up with its peers in adopting new technologies, the IPPR said. The Bank of England expects to see productivity start to pick up next year.
Many jobs could already be farmed out to computers and robots with existing technology, the IPPR said. Transportation, manufacturing, wholesale and retail vendors are among the industries likely to be affected. And because men outnumber women in high-skilled areas, automation could increase gender inequality too.
To ease the social burden of this shift, the government needs to provide greater support to people and companies to help them gain a foothold in the new economic environment, it said. The IPPR also called for establishing a body to regulate automation and new forms of capital ownership to prevent an undue concentration of wealth.
“It could also include the creation of employee ownership trusts to give workers a stronger stake in the firms for which they work, and an ownership claim on the value they help create,” it said.