Press release

Behavioural Insight team launches health report

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

A discussion paper on applying behavioural insight to health has been published today by the Cabinet Office.

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:

  • A smoking cessation pilot beginning in early 2011. This will use encourage participants to make commitments to quit smoking (for example, by signing a contract) and will reward those who pass regular smoking tests. The pilot will be run by Boots, with the support of the Behavioural Insights Team and the Department of Health
  • A system of ‘prompted choice’ on organ donor registration will be introduced to the DVLA online application form for renewing and applying for driving licenses. This will require applicants to state whether or not they wish to become an organ donor. Where this has been introduced in other countries, it has significantly increased the number of organ donors. If the DVLA scheme proves successful, it will be rolled out to other areas.

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:

  • The Behavioural Insights Team together with DoH, DWP and CLG is working with the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead - one of the four Big Society ‘vanguard communities’ announced by the Prime Minister in July 2010 - to develop a reciprocal time credit scheme to help catalyse more peer-to-peer provision of social care.
  • The introduction of seven day cooling off periods for those taking up Store Cards, in order to offer greater protection for consumers
  • Encouraging homeowners to introduce energy efficiency measures (often in ways that save money) through better and more targeted information for homeowners
  • Changes to the pension system to one that requires citizens to ‘opt-out’ rather than an opt-in system, to be introduced in 2012. When these systems have been introduced elsewhere, they have helped to increase saving rates dramatically

Read the report: Applying behavioural insight to health