I’m a nostalgic sort of fella. I yearn for those times when our politicians used some degree of rational argument to influence the electorate. The era where politicians appeared to hold some transparent values and principles that they would use to inform policies that were – purportedly – in the national interest; the era where politicians were obliged to listen to the views of ordinary people (or risk being displaced at the ballot box); where explicit policy proposals could be meaningly debated and criticised in the run up to an election.
Alas, things are not what they were.
We now have a homogenous batch of political parties all broadly following the same agenda, an agenda seemingly set largely by global elites who operate outside of any democratic system. And behavioural scientists – commonly referred to as ‘nudgers’ – play a pivotal role in levering the compliance of the masses with this top-down authoritarian mission. By means of their (often covert) deployment of psychological strategies that weaponise fear, shame and scapegoating, they facilitate the control of ordinary people. And to perform this essential role requires a huge resource of behavioural science expertise. Consequently, nudgers are everywhere.
As part of an ongoing research initiative to explore the U.K. Government’s deployment of behavioural science during the Covid event, I have scrutinised official documents and made a series of Freedom of Information requests. These reveal the scale of nudge activity being routinely utilised to secure the public’s compliance with top-down diktats. The findings are remarkable.
For ease of comprehension, I will divide the state’s behavioural science resource into five categories:
- Government advisory groups
- In-house employees embedded in Government departments
- The Behavioural Insight Team (aka ‘Nudge Unit’)
- The ‘Government Communications Service’
- Private advertisement agencies
1. Government advisory groups
When global elites announce that there is a world-wide ‘crisis’, governments typically respond by gathering a group of experts to advise them on relevant actions to take. Early in the Covid pandemic, the U.K. relied on the recommendations of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and its subgroups. One such subgroup was the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (SPI-B), whose membership was mainly comprised of behavioural scientists and prominent psychologists who have expertise in the deployment of nudge techniques.
A key element of the SPI-B’s remit was to advise on “strategies for behaviour change, to support control of and recovery from the epidemic”. At the start of the Covid era, the group was asked to “provide advice aimed at anticipating and helping people adhere to interventions that are recommended by medical or epidemiological experts”.
High profile behavioural scientists Professors David Halpern and Susan Michie also participated in the full SAGE forum, as did co-chairs of the SPI-B (Professors Ann John, James Rubin and Lucy Yardley).
All-in-all, it is clear that the Government’s expert advisory groups during the Covid event were well stocked with professionals who specialised in the craft of behavioural science.
2. In-house employees embedded in Government departments
While the pandemic advisory groups offered a wealth of nudge expertise, a far greater behavioural science resource was embedded within Government departments. The size of this permanent in-house resource has been revealed by a series of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.
In 2019, the Department of Revenue and Customs had 54 employees in its Behavioural Research and Insight team, while the Department for Work and Pensions employed 16 people in its Behavioural Science Team. A more recent FOI to the Department of Transport found that, in 2022, it had the equivalent of six full-time behavioural scientists at a total annual cost of £299,000 per annum. And – more pertinent to the Covid pandemic – an FOI response in November 2023 confirmed that the U.K. Health Security Agency (UKHSA) hosts a Behavioural Science and Insights Unit that employs 29 people (24 of whom are behavioural and social scientists) with an annual budget of £958,000. Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) recently acknowledged the existence of a Behavioural Science Team, as did the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities.
Professor James Rubin, a SPI-B Co-Chair, referred to this departmental behavioural science resource in his evidence to the current COVID-19 Inquiry. Bemoaning that his own group had insufficient influence on Government communications, Rubin stated:
We were one group within the Government system looking at behavioural science of which there were many other groups… there were teams within UKHSA, there was the DHSC.
3. The Behavioural Insight Team (a.k.a. ‘Nudge Unit’)
In 2010, the Behavioural Insight Team (BIT) was conceived in the Prime Minister’s Office of David Cameron as “the world’s first Government institution dedicated to the application of behavioural science to policy”. According to the BIT website, its team rapidly expanded from a seven-person unit working with the U.K. Government to a ‘social purpose company’ operating in many countries around the world. From 2014, the BIT was collectively owned by the U.K. Government, Nesta (an innovations charity) and the BIT’s own employees. In December 2021, the BIT was wholly acquired by Nesta for £15.4 million.
The BIT routinely receives requests from a wide range of Government departments to provide advice to communicators about how to maximise the power of their messaging. Throughout the Covid pandemic, the BIT produced multiple advisory documents, some of which encouraged the use of fear, shame and peer pressure as a means of enhancing the effectiveness of the Governments pandemic communications.
Strikingly, during the Covid pandemic, the BIT was awarded two lucrative contracts with the Government. The Cabinet Office allocated up to £4 million to the BIT for a three-year contract (2019-2022) to provide “Behavioural Insights Consultancy and Research Services” so as to furnish this heart of Government with “frictionless access to behavioural insights to match central priorities”. As for the Department of Health and Social Care, it paid BIT £1 million for a 13-months contract (March 1st 2020 to March 31st 2021) for “Various work for Test, Trace, Contain and Enable agenda”.
4. The Government Communications Service
As if the collective nudging might of the SPI-B, BIT and in-house behavioural scientists was not enough, there is also the Government Communications Service (GCS). Operating within Whitehall, this group of civil servants is led by Chief Executive Simon Baugh and boasts employing “over 7,000 professional communicators across the U.K.”
The GCS incorporates a Behavioural Science Team based in the Cabinet Office. In a recent document, Alex Aiken (Executive Director of Government Communication) celebrates how the GCS Behavioural Science Team has accelerated progress towards the “goal of embedding behavioural science expertise across the Government Communication profession”.
5. Private advertisement agencies
In April 2020, the Cabinet Office approved spending of £216.8 million for “Advertising, Marketing and Communications” in relation to a “Covid campaign 2020-21”, with the bulk (£194 million) of it dedicated to Covid-related advertising between April to December 2020. However, a FOI from March 2022 indicates that – in actuality – the Cabinet Office spent far more: over £5 million in 2019-20 and £370 million in 2020-21. A range of advertising companies have benefited from this spending, but the two major recipients of state funding have been Manning Gotlieb and Mullen Lowe. These large, Government-favoured agencies employ their own behavioural scientists to determine the content of their adverts and videos – for example, the powerful (and ethically dubious) ‘Look them in the eyes’ campaign.
An advertising agency insider has confirmed the high profile of nudgers within their creative world. Julia Bainbridge – a founder member of the Freuds agency, one of several advertising companies commissioned by the U.K. Government – recently stated: “Behavioural science is now mainstream and high profile, particularly in my field, which seeks to change people’s behaviour for their own, and the social good.” In the same article, Bainbridge goes on to say: “Behavioural science is now being deployed, at the highest level to address ‘wicked’ problems, from vaccine hesitancy to tobacco consumption, throughout the world.”
In conclusion, behavioural scientists – these paternalistic overseers of right-think – reside in every cavity of the state’s infrastructure, nudging our thoughts and actions to align them with globalist goals (for example, digital IDs, Net Zero carbon, a meatless society and less travel for the masses). Rather than rational argument and open debate, we are being furtively nudged, on an unprecedented scale, to obey the doctrines of the world’s elites. Regrettably, for ordinary people, conscious deliberation prior to decision making is rapidly becoming a rare commodity.