About 1.5 million workers in Britain are at high risk of losing their jobs to automation, according to government estimates, with women and those in part-time work most affected.
Supermarket checkout assistants have already borne the brunt of the phenomenon, the Office for National Statistics found, with 25.3% of jobs disappearing between 2011 and 2017.
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Some technology groups are already experimenting with retail outlets that will not require human-run checkouts or cashiers. Last year Amazon, which is expanding into grocery selling, opened a supermarket in Seattle with no checkout assistants, relying instead on sensors to track what shoppers removed from shelves, using “just walk out” technology to bill customers and end queues. Meanwhile McDonald’s is rapidly shifting to self-ordering kiosks in its restaurants, removing the need for customers to speak to workers at the counter.
Other jobs where automation has taken its toll include laundry workers, farm workers and tyre fitters, among which numbers have dropped by 15% or more, said the ONS, as machines have replaced labour.
It named Tamworth, Rutland and South Holland in Lincolnshire as the areas most exposed to automation – partly reflecting a relatively high level of farm workers – while Camden in north London has the workers least at risk.
The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, said: “The workers most at risk from automation are the same workers already badly hit by austerity. Workers and trade unions should take charge of the changing economy, not be its casualties. The next Labour government will be on the side of workers and our planet, ushering in a green industrial revolution.”
The ONS said: “If we isolate the 20 occupations with the highest probability of automation, we would expect employment to decrease in these occupations as automation starts to take place. However, this is not the case across all occupations – some have experienced an increase in employment between 2011 and 2017.”