31 December 2010
A discussion paper on applying behavioural insight to health has been published today by the Cabinet Office.
The paper, written by the new Behavioural Insights Team in the Cabinet Office, draws on insights from behavioural science and behavioural economics and shows ways in which health improvements can be made without resorting to legislation or costly programmes.
The paper sets out a number of examples where local authorities, charities, government and private sector organisations are developing responses that encourage healthier behaviours. It also announces a number of new initiatives introduced by the Behavioural Insights Team in partnership with other organisations:
Minister for Government Policy in the Cabinet Office Oliver Letwin said:
In the UK today, behavioural and lifestyle factors are thought to be major contributors in around half of all deaths. They include smoking, unhealthy diet, excess alcohol consumption and inactive lifestyles. The Government cannot address these issues successfully using heavy-handed legislation to rebalance our diets, change our desire to drink too much alcohol on a Friday night, or make our lives more active
“This paper shows how a new approach, drawing on insights from behavioural economics and behavioural sciences, can help to encourage people to adopt healthier lifestyles. It does not attempt to be comprehensive or to suggest that behaviour change techniques are the silver bullet that can solve every problem, but does show how, in a number of areas, there are often cost-effective ways of encouraging behavioural change that are less intrusive and will lead to better results for individuals and for society.
Today, Mr Letwin has also announced that the Behavioural Insight Team is working with HMRC to encourage people to pay their tax bills on time, helping to save the tax payer money and preventing the need to take tougher action. The trials will test the effects of: people’s general preference for keeping in step with their peers (most of whom will have paid their tax); reciprocity (by drawing attention to the vital services paid for by people’s tax payments); and loss aversion (taking action to avoid the increasing costs of leaving tax bills unpaid). The trials will start in February.
The Coalition Government announced their commitment to encourage, support and enable people to make better choices themselves in the Coalition Agreement. The Coalition Government has previously announced a number of initiatives which draw upon behavioural insights in support of government objectives. These include:
Read the report: Applying behavioural insight to health