Generation Brexit


The aim of the Generation Brexit blog is give voice to British and European millennials in the Brexit debate.

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Post-Brexit, robots are taking our jobs

Posted by Marta Lorimer (Admin) Jun 23, 2017

The Brexodus of workers is underway and key sectors can’t cope. Record numbers of nurses are quitting the NHS and farming is struggling. We can’t let the focus on the post-Brexit deal distract us from the present—but the present does hold important clues as to the assurances that EU workers demand. 

Visual Story:

The pressure on nursing is twofold. Six months after the vote to leave the European Union, only 96 nurses joined the health service from other EU countries—a drop of 1,208 from the month after the referendum. Meanwhile, 2,700 EU nurses abandoned the National Health Service in 2016— a 68 per cent increase from 2014. With the NHS going through what the British Red Cross has described as a ‘humanitarian crisis’, it simply cannot cope with the haemorrhaging of a workforce which makes up 57,000 of its staff. 

Farming—which provides the vast majority of food that Brits consume—is also under pressure. The National Farmers Union published a survey in 2016 showing the damaging effect of the vote on agricultural labour availability. Pre-vote, 100 per cent of labour providers said they could recruit the seasonal workers they need. By the end of September, only 40 per cent of providers could recruit the people required to put food on our plates. 

But might this mean more jobs for British workers? Think again. Instead, a Norwegian worker called Thorvald is being readied to plug a labour shortage on UK farms. He’s one of a new breed of robots capable of killing fungus, carrying strawberry plants long distances across fields—potentially any agricultural task. Best of all, he doesn’t even need a visa. 

We are lucky such technology exists and may be capable of filling the gap in the farming sector. The idea of robots caring for us in our sickbeds isn’t quite so appealing. It is therefore crucial to understand why EU workers have responded to Britain’s intention to leave by leaving themselves. 

The free-fall of the value of the pound has inevitably been a factor in making the UK a less attractive place to work. The value of UK wages in EU currencies is worth 15% less than pre-referendum—making the increase in the national ‘living’ wage fruitless to foreign workers. 

However, this alone doesn’t explain the Brexodus. Take home pay for a single worker in the UK is four or five times higher in the UK than in Romania and Bulgaria after taking into account cost of living. Crucially, lack of certainty over rights to remain feeds into a broader feeling held by EU citizens of no longer being welcome in the UK. Spanish nurses report feeling like ‘second-class citizens’. What with the lack of certainty over their future rights to live and work in the UK, who can blame them? 

The solution to the fall in the pound will prove complex and will depend on the type of relationships negotiated between the UK, EU27, and non-EU countries during the next two years. However, the UK could, and should, assure EU workers that they are welcome and deeply valued in Britain—with a legal guarantee of protection of their rights into the future. 

Robots may not have feelings, or families to support, or a life in the balance—but EU citizens do. We must act now or risk our key sectors suffering further. 

Share your views and suggestions and contribute to the debate on the Generation Brexit platform now! 

Liam Marc Robson and Tollak Nylænde Bowitz 


Associated topics

This post was edited on Jul 17, 2017 by Marta Lorimer

This post has 5 subscribers

Comments (9)

Isabel Flanagan says... Jun 24, 2017

Great article, really interesting. Although, are robots really a viable option for replacement of work force? Wouldn't the capital need to invest in these new technologies simply place more financial pressures on already struggling services?

Liam Robson says... Jun 25, 2017

Thanks Isabel! Good point - a lot of people in agriculture don't think this sort of technology is economically viable yet. But could the assessment of whether farm robots are economically viable change after Brexit? If the deal negotiated means industry finds it more difficult to hire workers willing to do hard manual work for low pay - which is likely if there's a change to free movement of workers - might robots be the next best option? Maybe robots are already more attractive given the difficulty industry is already facing attracting these low-payed EU workers because of the factors mentioned in the blog. 

Lev Bronstein says... Jun 28, 2017


Tollak Bowitz says... Jun 29, 2017

Valid point Isabel! However, although there certainly are costs tied to the introduction of robots and increased automation, there are also great benefits that could come with it, albeit not for everybody. It is likely that the low-skilled jobs will be the first to go, emphasising the difference between people, unless no measures are taken to respond to this. There are also obviously differences between sectors, but such a development could also help increase the low labour productivity growth in the Uk - production by each worker - compared to other European countries. 

The exact impact will of course be influenced by the type of future agreement between the EU27 and the UK, something I will not speculate in at this stage, but I would support Liam’s idea that Brexit could introduce these changes earlier than otherwise the case.

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Lev Bronstein says... Jun 25, 2017

I agree with Liam that automation will speed up if industries see a rise in the cost of labour but I dont think that Brexit isn't actually going to radically change the speed in which we see automation take over. Automation is much closer to entering the workforce than many people realize. Japan for example has already began embracing large scale automation into its service industries because of its high age demographics. Industries such as transportation can already see the radical changes of automation coming and with Brexit coming to the UK a lot of other industries reliant on low skill labour will start looking more seriously in investing the necessary capital. For anyone who argues that the dont see robots being able to replace many industries you only need to look back ten years and see if anyone back then would have believed we would have smartphones in everyones pockets and driverless cars on the roads. Automation is coming and coming quicker than most are willing to admit and Brexit may push these changes even quicker onto the UK it will be interesting to see how such large social changes will affect society.  

Liam Robson says... Jun 25, 2017

Thanks for your comment Lev! Do you think automation has the potential to fundamentally change the scale of movement of workers within the EU - i.e. more automation, less need for movement of low-skilled workers? If automation does happen on a large scale, it will be really interesting to see how it could change the whole migration debate 

Tollak Bowitz says... Jun 29, 2017

Good point Lev! I definitely agree that we could see an increase of automation and similar developments in the UK, potentially driven forwards by Brexit. But since the impact could be focused around low-skilled jobs, at least in the first instance, do you have any solutions for responding to this change for those losing their jobs? Should the government have a role here, or what could be a viable way forwards? 

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Alessandro Loi says... Dec 5, 2017

Why such a fear of automation? Surely we should be glad that we can finally live a life without grueling labour! In regards to the fear of poverty arising due to automation there is a simple solution, tax the machines as you would a human. That way the state still receives sizable tax revenues to help those out of work. Automation should be encouraged, as with all technological advancement, as long as it is pursued in the majority's interest, which it can be. 

Omar El-Sayed says... Dec 6, 2017

I disagree. Taking on a more long term view, machine intelligence is improving rapidly, faster than most realise. If a super intelligence is engaged in recursive self improvement, its intelligence may surpass that of the human brain. History dictates that when a more advanced populous happens upon the less advanced, it rarely ends well for the latter! While a rather apocalyptic view, many leaders in the technology industry share the same concerns; we must be prepared for it!.

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