More than half of furloughed jobs in the UK are at the highest risk of automation as the Covid crisis accelerates workplace technology change, driving up redundancies and inequality across the country, according to a two-year commission on workers and technology, organised by the Fabian Society and the Community trade union, found.
As many as 61% of jobs furloughed in the first half of this year were in sectors where automation is most likely to lead to job losses. 5.9 million of the 9.6 million furloughed workers were in the third of sectors with jobs at highest risk of automation, according to analysis of Office for National Statistics figures.
Rapid adoption of technology during the coronavirus pandemic has helped protect jobs as millions of employees work from home. But while employers have used new technologies to survive, the commission said many furloughed jobs would not return as a result. Physical-distancing requirements, remote working and online shopping have driven consumers and firms to make permanent changes to the way they use technology this year, with the pandemic likely to have a lasting impact on business and society. While spending in some physical shops has collapsed, resulting in thousands of job cuts by well-known high street employers, online spending has boomed – benefiting firms with fewer staff and highly automated operations.
The low-paid and disadvantaged workers were more likely to work in jobs at high risk of automation, with women, younger and older workers, people from minority ethnic backgrounds and disabled staff most likely to lose out.
The commission chair, Labour MP Yvette Cooper, commented, “There’s a real danger of widening inequality, long-term structural unemployment and low pay, as a result of people not being able to benefit from the economic recovery and improvements in technology that we all want to be able to benefit from.”