Deep inside Whitehall, psychologists are finding ways to make you insulate your loft, pay your taxes, and even quit smoking. Is the Coalition's controversial 'Nudge Unit' finally paying off?
Back in the dark ages of early 2011, the Cabinet Office began grappling with one of the most serious issues facing our age: loft insulation. A curious anomaly was emerging in official statistics — that no one wanted it. Huge subsidies had been ploughed into lagging and rolls of fibreglass; there were generously-incentivised installation schemes, that would pay for themselves within months. It was, to use non-Whitehall patois, a no-brainer. And yet public adoption rates were minuscule. Policymakers were baffled.
Step forward, then, a new Government team, with a new way of thinking.
Using research, plus a smidgen of common sense, they quickly identified the problem: laziness. More specifically, the sheer hassle of clearing an attic before you can insulate it. This alone was deterring us from taking up, effectively, a free lunch. And so, in a pilot trial in September 2011, they suggested a simple solution: that insulation firms offer to clear the lofts first, and dispose of our unwanted junk. In weeks, the uptake increased threefold, even though it cost the customer more. And when this service was subsidised to cost price, there was a fivefold increase.