‘Decade of disruption’ ahead in wake of Brexit vote, think-tank warns

Britain is facing a “decade of disruption” in the wake of the vote to leave the EU, with a slowing economy, an ageing population and technological transformation set to bring major change, a new report has warned.

The centre-left IPPR think-tank said Brexit had delivered a “profound shock” to the UK’s political and economic order which was likely to set the country on a path of permanently lower growth and living standards.

At the same time a rapidly ageing population – with the numbers of people aged 65 and over predicted to rise by a third by the end of the next decade – will impose new strains on the state with the funding gap for adult social care expected to hit £13 billion by 2030/31.

In the workplace, “exponential” improvements in new technologies – such as artificial intelligence systems and machine learning – will radically change the way people work, putting two-thirds of current jobs – 15 million – at risk of automation.

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While the report said it would not end “work as we know it”, who benefits from the changes – and who loses out – would depend on politics, which was likely to become increasingly assertive in the economic arena after decades of a liberalising consensus.

While there was the potential to create an era of widespread abundance, the changes could also usher in a “second machine age” resulting in radical concentrations of economic power.

The report predicts work is likely to become more insecure and more freelance while inequality is set to increase sharply with the income of high-income households forecast to rise 11 times faster than for those on low incomes.

The changes will take place against an international backdrop of growing uncertainty as the American hegemony which underpinned the post war international order fades and the Global South rises in economic and geopolitical importance.

Meanwhile, dwindling natural resources and the need to avoid climate change will force major change in the way energy is produced and consumed, potentially leading to “large-scale instability”.

“Brexit is the firing gun on a decade of disruption,” the report said.

“Even as what we do and how we work changes, the UK is likely to remain trapped in a low growth, low interest rate decade driven by demographic shifts, productivity trends, weak investment, weak labour power, high levels of debt, and the headwinds of a slowing global economy.”

“Without reform, our political and social system will struggle to build a more democratic, healthy society in the decades ahead, even as Brexit accelerates us towards a radically different institutional landscape.”

The report’s author, Mathew Lawrence, said the challenge for Britain’s progressives was to build a “high energy democracy” with meaningful engagement at national, city and local levels as well as in the marketplace through increasing the public’s say over corporate governance, ownership and power.

“A politics of nostalgia, institutional conservatism and a rear guard defence of the institutions of 20th century social democracy will be inadequate,” he said.

“For progressives, such a strategy will not be robust enough to mitigate against growing insecurity, ambitious enough to reform Britain’s economic model, nor sufficiently innovative to deliver deeper social and political transformation. They would be left defending sand castles against the tide of history.”

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