We’re creeping ever closer to the New Year and again, there’s another warning of emerging influences that could affect UK salaries and increase wage inequality in the UK. 

According to think tank, Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), many entry-level and lower income jobs will be considerably affected by the rise of workplace automation. With its findings, the IPPR have urged ministers to account for the rising inequality by assisting the lower-skilled UK work force to be retrained and share in the benefits from advances in technology and artificial intelligence (AI). 

Senior researcher at the IPPR and co-author of the report, Matthew Lawrence said: “Managed badly, the benefits of automation could be narrowly concentrated, benefitting those who own capital and highly skilled workers. Inequality would spiral.” 

“This would result in a “paradox of plenty”: a richer society but one that sees regions and communities left behind by localised technological revolution,” Lawrence added. 

The IPPR report estimates that 44% of jobs in the UK could realistically be automated, equating to more than 13.7 million people who together earn around £290bn. However, the report did not state a timeline, it quoted US research which estimates the changes would take place in between 10 to 20 years. Jobs such as call centre workers, secretaries and factory workers are likely to be phased out. In contrast, higher earners and workers able to retrain will gain higher income thanks to the rising automated productivity, meaning that more output would be generated per hour. 

That being said, Lawrence did add: “Despite the rhetoric of the riser of robots, machines aren’t about to take all our jobs. While technological change will reshape how we work and what we do, it won’t eliminate employment.” 

On an additional lighter note, the report also stated that jobs would be reimagined rather than lost. Jobs would be reallocated and economic output increased. According to the report, workplace automation could raise UK productivity growth by between 0.8 to 1.4% annually, and boost GDP by 10% by 2030. 

The think tank proposed a radical redistribution of the means of production in order to combat automation-related inequality. “To avoid inequality rising, the Government should look at ways to spread capital ownership, and make sure everyone benefits from increased automation,” Carys Robert, another author of the IPPR report, said.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said the UK’s labour market was “resilient and diverse” and that advances in technology were helping to “bring new jobs.”

"The government is committed to ensuring that the UK is to able to seize the opportunities and overcome the obstacles that exist in this area," he said. 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 government has taken some steps to address the challenges ahead of wage inequality and workplace automation, including a partnership with the TUC and the CBI to develop a national training scheme for workers, as well as launching an industrial strategy to drive up productivity.