Party leader’s speech hints at a possible future “robot tax”

The Labour Party has mooted the idea of a tax on those businesses which replace employees with automated processes. The possibility of a so-called “robot tax” was raised by Jeremy Corbyn, after he said that he wanted to raise money to retrain those employees who had lost their jobs because of the advent of new technology. In his speech to delegates at Labour’s Autumn Conference, Mr Corbyn signalled that a “new settlement” was needed.

“We need urgently to face the challenge of automation; robotics that could make so much of contemporary work redundant,” he said.

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

Expanding on the proposals, a spokesman added: “When you’ve got big leaps forward in technological change and therefore productivity, that can be shared in various ways, both in profits and wages and salaries on the one hand, and increases in wages and salaries and increased leisure time with shorter working hours. How that pans out is something that is up to political decisions and corporate decisions.”

A tax on robots was previously raised last May in a draft report to the European parliament. The report emphasised how the use of robots could lead to further inequality and proposed that there might be a “need to introduce corporate reporting requirements on the extent and proportion of the contribution of robotics and AI to the economic results of a company for the purpose of taxation and social security contributions”.

At the time the public reaction to this was overwhelmingly negative, with the notable exception of Bill Gates, who endorsed it, saying that a robot tax could finance jobs taking care of elderly people or working with children in schools, for which needs are unmet and to which humans are particularly well suited. He argues that governments must oversee such programs rather than relying on businesses, in order to redirect the jobs to help people with lower incomes.

Appearing on Radio 4’s Today programme, one of Mr Corbyn’s frontbench MPs, Angela Rayner, sought to play down speculation about a specific tax, while acknowledging that both politicians and businesses needed to ensure that the introduction of new ways of working didn’t cause major upheaval to the workforce.

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