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MPs launch inquiry into automation and its impact on jobs

House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee will look at the impact of automation on workers, businesses and the UK economy as a whole

MPs on the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee have launched an inquiry into automation and its potential benefits and challenges.

The inquiry will look at how automation will affect the job market, and the advice and financial support currently available to businesses that want to automate.

Allowing businesses to automate certain tasks could have a huge impact on efficiency and productivity, areas where the UK is lagging behind other European countries. But there are concerns that the adoption of automation will lead to job losses.  

A paper by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), published in September 2017, said that figures from the Bank of England showed 15 million jobs were at high risk of being automated. 

“Projections for wages in the wake of widespread technological change also suggest that the lowest skilled will lose out, and that income disparities could widen further,” said the TUC.

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee chair Rachel Reeves said automation provides an opportunity for the UK.

“Automation does offer a route to helping tackle our long-standing productivity puzzle, but the UK needs to be ready to ensure workers are reskilled and do not lose out,” she said.

“It is important that workers in the everyday economy where most people work, such as retail or health and social care, get the technological and other support they need to boost productivity and improve the quality of their jobs.”

Reeves added that workers are “rightly concerned” by reports that 15-30% of jobs are at risk of automation by 2030.

A recent study by PwC found that among young people, up to 28% of jobs will be at risk of automation over the next 15 years. 

At the CBI’s annual meeting in December 2017, CBI president Paul Dreschler said the dawn of automation requires a huge programme of education and training to avoid inequality.

“The low-skilled jobs that disappear will be replaced by high-skilled jobs, responsible for oversight and management,” he said. “This is more than a step-change. It is a completely new era, and one that will require a massive programme of education and training.” 

Reeves said the parliamentary committee wants to examine the impact of automation “on business, consumers and workers, and to explore the opportunities for the UK to be a world leader in automation and in ensuring everyone benefits from it”.

She added: “Automation could provide an opportunity for the UK to reindustrialise, where we compete internationally on quality and price, not a race to the bottom on wages, through the development of more efficient and productive industries. In seeking to capitalise on these opportunities, it is vital that the government does what it can to ensure the benefits of automation are realised for the economies of all parts of the country.”

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