The UK aid response to COVID-19

This review examines the prioritisation and redirection of UK aid in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  1. Status: Completed
  2. Published: 21 October 2021
  3. Type: Rapid review
  4. Subject: Government processes and systems
  5. Location: Pakistan, Sudan, Zambia
  6. Lead commissioner: Sir Hugh Bayley

Latest news

We conducted a rapid review examining the UK aid response to COVID-19 and made three recommendations to the government. We’ve followed up on the government’s progress implementing our recommendations and we will return again to reassess outstanding issues in 2024. Find out more in the ‘Further scrutiny‘ tab.


The COVID-19 pandemic led to a rapidly evolving emergency in developing countries. In some cases, healthcare infrastructure was overwhelmed. Travel restrictions and social isolation measures led to loss of livelihoods and limited access to services. Humanitarian supplies to existing emergencies were interrupted. There was extensive disruption to a wide range of development initiatives, including education and vaccinations. National economies contracted sharply, unemployment spiralled and developing countries faced sharp falls in income from tax revenues, investment, tourism and remittances, causing liquidity crisis and rising debt levels.

During 2020, the UK aid programme was reprioritised to support the UK’s international response to the COVID-19 pandemic and mobilise support for developing countries. There were two main phases of aid reprioritisation in 2020, in May and June. There was also a major reprioritisation within the DFID/FCO countries portfolio, often through the redirection of existing programmes.

This rapid review assesses how well the UK government prioritised and directed its official development assistance (ODA) in response to the pandemic.



Published 5 May 2021

Evidence gathering


Review publication

Published 21 October 2021

Government response

Published 16 December 2021

Parliamentary scrutiny

IDC hearing 20 April 2022

ICAI follow-up

Published 18 July 2023