Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition, amid a crowd of supporters

Corbyn says ‘National Education Service’ needed to “face the challenge of automation”

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In his keynote speech on the final day of the Labour Party Conference in Brighton, the Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn called for the establishment of a ‘National Education Service’ to equip people of all ages with the skills they need to defend themselves from technological unemployment.

During the speech, a buoyant Corbyn described the Labour Party as a “government-in-waiting” and argued that there was a “new common sense” emerging which embraced a stronger role for government in managing the economy.

He said that the government must step up to the responsibility of retraining British people in new skills as technological advances transform the workplace.

“We need urgently to face the challenge of automation; robotics that could make so much of contemporary work redundant. That is a threat in the hands of the greedy, but what an opportunity if it’s managed in the interests of society as a whole.”

“If planned and managed properly, accelerated technological change can be the gateway for a new settlement between work and leisure, a springboard for expanded creativity and culture, making technology our servant and not our master at long last,” he continued.

Corbyn stated that a Labour government would establish a ‘National Education Service’, which would provide free education and training for people of all ages, in order to retrain them to cope in an economy rapidly transformed by technology.

A report released in February suggested that 250,000 public sector jobs in the UK could be lost to robots and computers by 2030. According to the IFR International Federation of Robotics, however, the UK does not have a particularly high density of robots per manufacturing employee: at 71 per 10,000 workers in manufacturing.

“The tide of automation and technological change means training, and management of the workplace must be centre stage in the coming years,” Corbyn said. “So Labour will build an education and training system from the cradle to the grave that empowers people, not one that shackles them with debt.”

Reports had been circulating that Corbyn was due to announce a ‘robot tax’ in his keynote speech: The Daily Telegraph reported on its front page that “greedy global corporations” profiting from the replacement of human workers with robots could be made to pay this tax to protect its human employees.

While no such tax was mentioned, this is a concern across most developed economies: automation could put more than half of workers out of their jobs in South-East Asia over the next 20 years.

Consequently, South Korea is considering amending its tax laws to reduce the current financial incentives that exist to encourage companies to adopt machinery, amid concerns that automation could lead to mass unemployment in the highly tech-forward country (which has 531 robots for every 10,000 manufacturing employees)

In Hawaii, legislators have discussed the possibility of providing a guaranteed income to citizens, in order to support humans as work becomes increasingly automated: a scheme supported by major tech figures, including Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder, and Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX.

In June 2016, Swiss voters rejected a proposal to introduce such an income.

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