> UN report attacks austerity budgets for growing inequality

World: UN report attacks austerity budgets for growing inequality


Study says spending cuts have encouraged rise of robots and AI and heightened job insecurity, particularly for women

Austerity budgets adopted by governments across the world since the 2008 financial crash are to blame for undermining the job security of millions of workers and threatening the evolution made by women in the workplace, according to a UN statement.

The threat to jobs from the growing use of robots and artificial intelligence has been exacerbated by a lack of government investment and lack of national support for skills training, the statement as well said.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Improvment(Unctad) said in its annual statement, Beyond Austerity – Towards a World New Transaction, that the contraction of government spending meant that “the increasingly limited availability of good jobs” were going to men rather than women.

“Excluding women from good jobs deepens in general inequality with negative consequences for increase,” it said.

The statement argued that giving women access to decent employment could only be completed if governments maintained investment in affordable childcare facilities and care for the elderly. At the same time as they make steep cuts in early-years education and healthcare provision they are entirely asking women to pick up the slack, it said.

“There is much additional to do to reach gender equality in employment than to increase the participation of women in markets and boardrooms,” said Unctad’s secretary general, Mukhisa Kituyi.

The statement said: “Given the employment challenges associated with structural and technological change, and women’s primary responsibility for care work, Unctad recommends transforming unpaid and paid care activities into decent work”

The rebuke of governments, inclunding the UK’s, that have adopted austerity measures to reduce public deficit while allowing households’ private deficit to increase, is the major theme of the statement.

Last year’s annual statement highlighted fears of a deficit crisis in developing nations as the threat of falling commodity prices and higher interest rates mounted. Low interest rates and the stimulus from quantitative easing have remained in place, easing the threat, but only in response to gloomy forecasts for GDP increase should either be withdrawn.

Kituyi, the former chief of the Kenya Institute of Governance, said: “Despite all the talk of the urgency of reform at the time of the financial crisis, and recent claims that the economy is safer, simpler and fairer, regulatory actions have so far done little additional than clip the wings of high-flying finance, with lending presently somewhat backed by capital and a bit less trading in the shadows.

“The public purse was used generously to prevent the financial sector going under in 2007-08, but the root causes of financial instability have not been addressed by national governments or on a world scale.”

Austerity was heightening fears that robots and artificial intelligence would displace workers in well-paid jobs rather than enhance their work and improve productivity, the statement said. It argues for digitally focused industrial policies to ensure that robotics support jobs rather than threaten them.

Richard Kozul-Wright, the director of Unctad’s globalisation and development strategies division, said concerns about robots were mounting against a backdrop of uncertainty over the strength of the world economy.

“This has held back the investment needed to create new sectors, where workers displaced by robots could find better jobs,” he said.
Routine tasks in well-paying manufacturing and service jobs are being restored by robots, the statement said, but low-wage manufacturing jobs in areas such as clothing factories are left largely unaffected by automation.

“Although most jobs in developing nations are not under immediate threat, a tendency to further concentrate manufacturing activity in existing locations could follow, raising concerns that the gap between winners and losers from robot use will widen sharply,” it said.

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