A report published today by the House of Lords Science and Technology sub-committee states that the Government’s ‘nudge’ agenda is unlikely to change behaviour at a population level, and will not have a significant impact on reducing levels of alcohol harm.

The committee criticized the Government’s preference for non-regulatory interventions for tackling major public health threats such as obesity and alcohol misuse. The report is particularly critical of the reliance on voluntary agreements with the alcohol industry, such as the pledges that make up the Public Health Responsibility Deal, and the lack of evidence-based policies to combat the problem of alcohol misuse in the UK:

5.25 The involvement of other organisations to support the Government’s behaviour change initiatives may provide valuable opportunities to improve the effectiveness of behaviour change interventions, in particular by allowing a range of messengers to be used to deliver them. We welcome the Government’s intention to use such collaborations.

5.26 However, we have major doubts about the effectiveness of voluntary agreements with commercial organisations, in particular where there are potential conflicts of interest. Where voluntary agreements are made, we recommend that the following principles should be applied in order to ensure that they achieve their purpose:

  • The Government should specify clearly what they want businesses to do based on the evidence about how to change behaviour, and what steps they will take to achieve the same result if voluntary agreements are not forthcoming, or prove ineffective.
  • Voluntary agreements should be rigorously and independently evaluated against measurable and time-limited outcomes.

5.27 Given that these principles do not appear to have been applied consistently to the Public Health Responsibility Deal Network, we urge DH, in particular, to ensure that these principles are followed when negotiating further voluntary agreements. In relation to the current agreements, we recommend that DH should state for each pledge what outcomes are expected and when, and provide details of what steps they will take if the agreements are not effective at the end of the stated period.

To view the full report and watch a video summary click here: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/lords-select/science-and-technology-committee/news/behaviour-change-published/