Behavioural Insights: The Second Team Leading the UK Government’s Covid-19 Response

by Martin Edwards

At the beginning of this millennium, a range of psychological tools was applied simultaneously on the British public to change the behaviour of smokers, drinkers and the obese. Today, we are all constantly being ‘nudged’ to make decisions which favour the preferred options set by global policy makers. But what is their ultimate objective, and which actors are working behind the scenes to change citizen behaviour?

There are two main areas of scientific ‘expertise’ which the Johnson régime relies upon to decide how it will deal with the Covid–19 ‘pandemic’. The first is the team at Imperial College led by Neil Ferguson, which claims to be able to use its computer models to forecast the spread and impact of the disease. The second is the army of behavioural ‘scientists’ who have been ‘nudging’ us at every opportunity into making decisions which favour the preferred options set by global policy makers.

In 2011, the UK Column published an exclusive report, British Cabinet Office Collaborates With French Brainwashing Guru To Change The Way We Think, which warned that the public is to be reframed or ‘nudged’ into politically acceptable ‘social norms’ including healthy eating, voluntary work and tax-gathering. During the current ‘pandemic’, the nudging of the public has gone into overdrive, fully facilitated by the mainstream press and media.

What are behavioural insights?

Traditional methods (‘tools’ or ‘stimuli’) employed to change public behaviour are legislation, regulation, taxation and education.

More recently, however, we have seen how the application of numerous techniques of nudge theory (behavioural economics and psychology) have been used in order to modify how governments and the population at large make decisions. The purpose of these so-called nudges is to ‘encourage people to make better choices for themselves and society.’

One such ‘better choice’ concerns the highly controversial roll-out of ‘smart’ energy meters. The thinking behind this move is that ‘households with smart meters will be able to receive highly personalised behavioural feedback, which is deliverable through a range of new technology platforms, such as a web portal, email, mobile applications and social media.’

Behaviour Change and Energy Use — a joint publication of the Cabinet Office Behavioural Insights Team, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, and the Department for Communities and Local Government — presents insights which ‘complement the Government’s objective to reduce carbon emissions across all sectors.’

Energy consumers are therefore being deliberately misled. Energy companies are claiming that a ‘smart’ meter would mean an end to estimated bills and that consumers also benefit by instantly being able to see how much energy they have used in pounds and pence.

But the authors of Behaviour Change and Energy Use also point out that ‘in the context of domestic energy use, providing consumers with feedback on how their energy use compares with similar households in their neighbourhood has been shown to reduce energy consumption in higher-than-average users.’

A further document by the Department of Energy and Climate Change highlights the fact that when ‘smart’ meters are installed, the energy providers can switch off people’s energy supplies if they deem the usage too high or if the grid is on a high load, only to be restored when usage drops or the user is more conservative with their energy consumption.

Smart Energy GB claims itself to be the ‘voice of the smart meter roll-out.’ The Smart Energy GB 2016 publication A smart route to change: The application of behavioural science in supporting Great Britain’s smart meter roll-out and changing the way we use energy for the better contains two chapters of relevance to this article. Chapter three covers ‘Behavioural Change Models and the smart meter rollout’, whilst chapter four covers the ‘The SMART Approach to applying MINDSPACE.’ We will learn more about ‘Mindspace’ below.


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