"I will destroy all humans" The uncomfortably human-looking robot Sophia told her creator last year. Recovering from my initial panic (SKYNET IS HAPPENING) I couldn’t help but notice the general unease people have around technological advances. The most common unease not being the inevitable robot uprising - but the impact on their jobs.
The UK government boasts unemployment figures of over 4.2% “the lowest in over 40 years”. You don't need to scratch the surface much to see this figure isn't as wonderful as they boast; not taking into consideration the amount of people on part-time but want to be in full-time work, self-employed but struggling, and the increasing zero-hour contracts, who by virtue of requiring tax-credits and paying less national insurance and tax cost the government an estimated 2 billion a year.
While machines will always create jobs (we need the engineers, mechanics, software developers to keep them running) for every breakthrough advancement we then remove the need for hundreds to thousands of jobs. Driverless vehicles are hailed to become our taxi drivers. Self-serve checkouts are already replacing checkout staff (although given their sensitivity to something being in the baggage are, at no meaningful rate).
What does this mean for the people formally in these jobs? People out of work are routinely shamed by the press, despite the crucial factor there aren’t as many jobs as there are people. They're quick to blame unemployment on dem pesky immigrants, the big bad EU, poor people "having too many children" (while simultaneously blaming women for not having enough children for our “population crisis”).
A robot-worker society is by no mean imminent. Every generation before us has expected it to have happened by now or sooner. But it is a very real prospect, and we need to radically look at how we operate as a society and stop championing a person’s worth around how much money they can make for someone else.
The Scottish Government is in the early stages of trialling Universal Basic Income (“Citizens’ Basic Income) a minimum income the government pays everyone to ensure they have the same starting point. It would by no means eradicate inequality (those fortunate enough to obtain employment and those that come from money will always have more) but it will go a step towards it, and mean those unable to find or incapable of undertaking work do not suffer poverty and shame for doing so.
The Tories, as with most social policies, aren't in favour. Nick Bowles objected on "moral grounds" (moral tory!), saying man is hard-wired for work. The idea of removing the need for a working class is evidently enough to frighten him.
I contacted Angela Constance (Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities), who told me:
“We are absolutely committed to reducing the deeply ingrained inequalities that exist across Scotland. At its root this is an issue of income inequality, which is why we are shifting the emphasis from dealing with the consequences to tackling the underlying causes.
“The Citizens’ Basic Income is a bold proposal that is currently untested in an advanced economy. Four local authorities have been identified to test this policy in Scotland and we have offered funding and support, which will be available this year, to help them scope their potential pilots.”
We can't and shouldn’t escape advancements in technology. We can’t punish people for being unable to find jobs that don't exist. The government can't continue to create jobs that aren't needed just to look like they’re doing something. These pilots will determine if UBI is a viable solution. Already trailing in Finland, it’s looking positive. As the non-existent savings from benefit cuts have shown, bureaucracy costs. As our homelessness system has shown, poverty costs.
Instead of people working 40 hours a week just to survive, they’re liberated to spend their lives doing something they enjoy, that isn't always highly paid. The Arts. Music. Philosophy. Elderly care. Crucial contributions to any meaningful society.
A life people where people could live instead of working to live. Now wouldn't that be something.
Blog by Catherine McGarrell