A leading think tank has urged the British government to spend billions of pounds helping poorly skilled workers in the less prosperous parts of the UK cope with the threat of the looming robot revolution.
The left-leaning Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) report said that those most at risk from automation were concentrated in low-skill sectors of the economy and were least able to adapt to change.
More than 10 million jobs in the UK — a third of the total — are thought to be at risk from automation within the next two decades and the IPPR said the scale of the challenge required urgent action.
There was also evidence to suggest that the impact of automation would be geographically concentrated and so widen the north-south divide.
The IPPR research said that in four sectors alone — retail, hospitality, transport and manufacturing — 5 million jobs were at risk, adding that a particular concern to ministers should be industries ripe for automation with a high proportion of workers least able to adapt.
The IPPR called on the government to introduce a retraining allowance of up to ￡2,000 (US$2,504) for those replaced by machines and for the newly created apprenticeship levy to be turned into a ￡5 billion-per-year skills levy offering special help to the regions furthest away from London.
“Britain can’t afford to ignore the huge changes that will transform our labour market in the coming years,” IPPR senior research fellow Joe Dromey said.
“If we don’t retrain Britain’s workforce with the skills they need for the future we are likely to end up with a society where a small number prosper while many are left behind. This doesn’t mean everyone going to university, far from it, but it does mean a much greater focus on supporting adults to retrain and up-skill, rather than focusing only on young people,” he said.
The think tank said that adults who had left full-time education without any qualifications were almost twice as likely as university graduates to be unemployed one year after being made redundant — making them especially in need of help to retrain.
The IPPR said its analysis showed that jobs in London and the southeast were more resilient to automation than those in the rest of the country.
The think tank said the ￡2,000 retraining allowance should be paid to workers who lacked “A-levels” or their equivalent, with better qualified workers eligible for up to ￡1,000 for retraining provided they matched the amount with their own contribution.
The cost of ￡164 million per year could be recouped by reducing the tax free allowance for redundancy payments, the report said.
It said that the skills levy should be set at 0.5 percent of the payroll for employers with more than 50 staff members and 1 percent for those employing more than 250.
A quarter of the ￡5 billion per year raised would be allocated to a regional skills fund, it said.