My response to the Covid-19 terms of reference inquiry.
This is the the juicy part, the response to Page 2.
Areas not covered, that the Inquiry should address:
Use of professional behavioural psychology techniques and the effects of deliberately stoking fear in the general public, the media and institutions.
Accuracy of the recording and measurement of deaths from Covid.
The censorship or suppression of anyone who questioned the official narrative, for example pursuant to Ofcom guidelines.
Lack of impact assessments and the disregard of harms caused by restrictions, particularly for children, who must be considered separately in terms of physical, social, psychological and educational impacts.
Discrimination against the unvaccinated population, especially mandatory vaccination of Healthcare Workers (‘HCWs’) and care home staff, which lacked scientific justification (as per the PACAC report). At one point, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said life was going to become difficult for the unvaccinated. How could this discrimination have been justified and tolerated by government? The country only just swerved becoming a two tier medical apartheid country.
Vaccine harms and deaths.
Covid Fixed Penalty Notices were set at disproportionate and cruel levels. Fixed-penalty notices are normally used for minor and straightforward infractions. They are also normally set at low levels, say £100 for littering or £130 for parking. Covid fines were set up to £10,000 for repeat offences, unrelated to income. Fines were issued disproportionately to black and Asian people. The fines could have created perverse incentives for councils. FPNs were incorrectly issued.
Why emergency legislation was used when Covid-19 was not a HCID.
Why the existing protocol for pandemic strategy was not followed.
Examine the evidence base for mass asymptomatic testing, and discover whether an impact assessment was conducted.
How did the lockdown and restrictions impact the population’s human rights.
This Inquiry should make recommendations for future pandemic management.
Delayed and inadequate Freedom of Information requests related to the pandemic management.
The accuracy of data behind the government Covid-19 dashboard. One of my FOI’s revealed alarmingly incorrect case data by test centre by day for the month of December 2020, and my requests for correct data and clarification go unanswered. I will be happy to supply the data I have to the Inquiry.
During the course of researching my book ‘A State of Fear: how the UK government weaponised fear during the Covid-19 pandemic’ I gained a fascinating but sometimes disturbing insight into how reliant the government is on behavioural science and how little transparency there is about the people, methods, impacts and ethics. Therefore, I would like to expand on (1) further.
Behavioural scientists and politicians have called for public consultation in the past, but it has not happened. The Science and Technology Select Committee’s 2011 report into Behaviour Change noted that there are ‘ethical issues because they involve altering behaviour through mechanisms of which people are not obviously aware’ and ‘ethical acceptability depends to a large extent on an intervention’s proportionality’. David Halpern, the head of the Behavioural Insights Team, has said that ‘if national or local governments are to use these approaches [behavioural psychology tools], they need to ensure that they have public permission to do so – ie, that the nudge is transparent, and that there has been appropriate debate about it’.
The MINDSPACE: Influencing behaviour through public policy discussion document which David Halpern co-authored recommended a public consultation about the use of behavioural insights. This has never been more pertinent. Fear messaging was used to encourage compliance with the rules. This has changed our lives and our relationships with each other. It has also changed our relationship with the government. This was predicted in the report MINDSPACE: Influencing behaviour through public policy, which warned:
‘People have a strong instinct for reciprocity that informs their relationship with government – they pay taxes and the government provides services in return. This transactional model remains intact if government legislates and provides advice to inform behaviour. But if government is seen as using powerful, pre-conscious effects to subtly change behaviour, people may feel the relationship has changed: now the state is affecting “them” - their very personality.’
Our personalities were changed 2020-2021. And the use of fear, a particularly destabilising tactic, has made recovery harder. The collateral damage is becoming clearer, not least with the identification of Covid Anxiety Syndrome, whereby people have heightened fears which are disproportionate to the remaining threat.
I believe the UK needs a full analysis of the tactics used and their impacts from experts, including psychologists, behavioural scientists, mental health specialists, politicians, political scientists, sociologists, philosophers, civil liberties organisations, lawyers, as well as representatives of the public.
The Covid epidemic has shone a spotlight onto how embedded behavioural science is within government, but a further, separate inquiry would benefit from widening the scope to a historical review and also agree new frameworks for the future.
Specific areas of concern related to the use of professional behavioural psychology techniques:
The Inquiry should investigate the ethics of the government’s massively expanded use of behavioural psychology, which knowingly deployed fear, shame & scapegoating (‘affect’, ‘ego’ & ‘norm’ nudges) on its citizens in order to manipulate thoughts and actions. The investigation should include consideration of the lack of public consent for this intervention.
The full amount spent on media advertising should be made public, along with the various campaigns’ objectives, target audiences, methodology, results.
Was any thought put into how (or even if) Government induced fear could be reversed when the crisis eased?
What ethical framework do the various behavioural scientists employed/deployed by government abide by? (Including BIT, SPI-B, in house behavioural scientists in Cabinet House, DHSC, UKHSA, etc) Who has responsibility for literature reviews of the latest research on ethics? Is there a voluntary code of ethics within government for the use of behavioural science and nudge?
What did the UK government spend on behavioural science across all departments, units and government agencies during the Covid-19 pandemic?
There are negative psychological, emotional, economic and societal consequences for lockdown, fear messaging and masks, yet these are all tools which SPI-B recommended and provided suggestions for adherence. How did they consider the harms and collateral damage, how did they measure them and who has responsibility for the harms that arose?
What is the clearance process for SPI-B members? How are diversity of thought and discipline ensured?
Is it acceptable for a government to strategically inflict emotional distress (fear, personal threat, as per SPI-B minutes) to make people do what they want (adhere to lockdown rules, be vaccinated etc)? How have the public been engaged with consent for this?
Transparency regarding how polls were commissioned, the companies used, methodology, all results, and how that influenced policy and communications.