Written Evidence Submission from the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office in response to the International Development Committee’s Inquiry into COVID-19



Across the world we are seeing the devastating impact of COVID-19. It is a protracted crisis that will play out over an extended period of time. In much of the world the indirect health, humanitarian and socio-economic impacts of the pandemic are being felt more strongly than the direct health impacts. They risk undermining progress on key issues such as poverty reduction, immunisation coverage, gender equality, girls education, disability inclusion, and sexual and reproductive health and rights. In those countries facing the most severe vulnerabilities, the indirect impacts of COVID-19 are exacerbating pre-existing crises.

By the end of this year, up to 115 million additional people could fall into extreme poverty (World Bank) and at least 250 million people could be acutely food insecure (World Food Programme), with famine in some countries a real possibility. Up to 1.6 billion children have also been out of school due to COVID-19 (UNESCO). The groups most affected by this crisis are those already vulnerable and marginalised including women and girls, people with disabilities, and refugees and displaced populations.

We have so far committed over £1 billion of UK aid to counter the health, humanitarian, and socio-economic risks, and to support the global effort to find and distribute a vaccine. In addition, FCDO has adapted over 200 bilateral aid programmes to channel resources to the response.

Despite our efforts, the international response does not yet address the scale and breadth of the crisis, particularly for vulnerable countries. The UK will continue to play a leadership role in driving action and the level of ambition, including through our G7 and COP26 Presidencies.


Indirect Health Impacts

COVID-19 puts achieving the Global Goals at risk. Basic services are interrupted as containment measures and fear of infection reduce demand. Women, girls, new-borns and children are most affected. The WHO found that 70% of surveyed countries reported (partial or severe) disruption to routine immunisations, 56% reported disruption to antenatal care, 52% disruption to sick child services, and 19% disruption to emergency surgery.

Our global health response to COVID-19 aims to respond to the direct health impacts of the pandemic whilst also maintaining the delivery of, and access to, affordable essential services for health, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene, and sexual and reproductive health and rights. This is critical for ending preventable deaths of mothers, new-borns and children by 2030 and making progress on diseases like malaria.

UK funding is enabling support at scale for the COVID-19 response, maintaining essential services and engaging communities. As a leading donor, the UK is supporting a range of priorities through:

-          Up to £1.4 billion pledge to the Global Fund, supporting the Global Fund to make up to US$1 billion available to support countries to respond to COVID-19, reinforce health systems, and mitigate the impacts on HIV, TB and malaria programmes, as well as enabling countries to access essential COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics;

-          Up to £1.65 billion pledge to Gavi to support routine immunisation, including reprogramming of health systems strengthening grants during COVID-19 for PPE and infection, prevention and control that are vital to keep essential services accessible;

-          £30 million, with an additional £50 million commitment, to the Global Financing Facility to support access to reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent services in 36 countries;

-          £400 million to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative over the next four years, which has enabled countries to respond to COVID-19 through polio-funded surveillance, laboratory and community mobiliser networks; and

-          £75 million support to the WHO for their COVID-19 response, in addition to a £120m per annum (on average) financial contribution to assist the WHO, including on their role to provide technical guidance and operational support on maintaining essential health services and building community engagement and trust. Our recently announced £340 million (2020-24) new core contribution to the WHO represents a significant uplift in UK support, and will help to strengthen the WHO over the coming years.

This complements our work with regional and country partners. Our £100 million partnership with Unilever is promoting hygiene in 37 countries, complementing country-specific activities on safe water and sanitation. Our ASCEND programme on neglected tropical diseases has adapted services to meet COVID-19 safety measures to restart neglected tropical diseases campaigns. In Ethiopia, the UK has worked with partners and the government to protect funding for essential health services and to ensure the safe delivery of a measles immunisation campaign that reached over 14 million children. In Nepal, the UK is supporting the government, including on community-based outreach, to build trust, raise awareness, and encourage use of safe maternal and family planning services.

We have worked to ensure developing countries are aware of how control measures like quarantine and shielding, informal urban contexts, and community-based care can affect or facilitate access to services for the vulnerable, including through our collaboration with the Wellcome Trust on the Social Science in Humanitarian Action Platform.

The UK has also argued for greater focus on indirect impacts and on the need to engage communities in global and bilateral dialogues, including promoting robust language on protecting services, rights and inclusion in World Health Assembly and UN General Assembly resolutions and in the G20.


Economy & Food Insecurity

The economic impacts of COVID-19 are widespread and severe. The IMF is forecasting a global economic recession of c.-4.4% in 2020 and vulnerable countries have limited economic tools to respond. Recent World Bank estimates are that an additional 88-115 million people will fall into extreme poverty by the end of this year. 

We are working through the International Financial Institutions and our bilateral programmes to ensure governments and business in developing countries can access affordable financing and advisory support. With UK support, the Multilateral Development Banks are making over $200 billion available to governments and businesses over 15 months. This financing is strengthening the health response, helping limit the impacts on vulnerable groups, supporting a sustainable recovery, and assisting firms to keep operating. The UK’s Development Finance Institution, CDC, has committed over $400 million to provide SMEs with liquidity to help them weather the crisis.

We are protecting the most vulnerable from the economic impacts of COVID-19 through our social protection programmes and are supporting jobs and supply chains. For example, the new Vulnerable Supply Chains Facility will partner with businesses and civil society organisations to help vulnerable workers and farmers affected by COVID-19 in the agriculture and garments sectors.

The economic impacts are exacerbating a global food security emergency. Pre-existing levels were already historically high and the UN estimates at least 250 million people could be acutely food insecure by the end of 2020, with famine in some countries a possibility.

The UK is one of the largest donors to the COVID-19 humanitarian response. As part of the wider £1 billion spend, we have committed £145 million to UN appeals, including £15 million to the World Food Programme. Our humanitarian programmes are helping to sustain access to basic services and reduce food consumption gaps for those who need it most. We have allocated an additional £119 million to help alleviate extreme hunger for over 6 million people and prevent famine; and appointed the UK’s first Special Envoy for Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Affairs to encourage political and development action needed to tackle risk of famine, including through improved early warning systems.

We are also adapting our programmes in agriculture, nutrition and food security, to help reduce the scale of the food security emergency, reduce malnutrition rates and build resilience. This includes our Commercial Agriculture for Smallholders and Agribusiness programme, which is supporting smallholders and smaller agribusinesses to stay in market, diversify production, reduce costs and use new digital platforms and technologies. In addition, the UK co-chaired Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme has already adapted $183 million of its funding in 41 of the poorest and most fragile countries and has now committed its full remaining balance of $60 million to support proposals which help mitigate COVID-19 impacts in the 11 worst affected countries.


Women & Children


COVID-19 is exacerbating gender inequality and is leading to a surge in all forms of gender-based violence with reduced prevention and protection efforts. UNFPA estimates progress towards ending such violence by 2030 has been reduced by one-third since the start of the crisis.

As many as 1.6 billion children have been out of school as a result of the pandemic (UNESCO). 20 million more secondary school-aged girls could be out of school after the crisis has passed (Malala Fund, 2020). The most disadvantaged children are at risk of dropping out of school permanently. Children, particularly those already marginalised, are more vulnerable to neglect and all forms of abuse. 

Girls’ education and gender equality are central to the UK’s response. Baroness Sugg, the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Girls’ Education, appointed earlier this year, is driving forward FCDO’s international engagement on this agenda. Our education support has included £20 million to UNICEF in support of its global COVID-19 appeal, £5 million for Education Cannot Wait and £5.3 million to UNHCR for 5,000 refugee teachers. All bilateral education programmes have pivoted to support children’s wellbeing, protection and nutrition, enabling distance learning wherever possible. The Girls’ Education Challenge projects continue to support girls during school closures, through gender-based violence prevention messages and community-based education in areas where girls are at high risk of child marriage.

We are the largest donor to UNFPA and FCDO has provided an additional £10 million to help address reproductive health supply shortages caused by the pandemic, and help scale up reporting, protection, and support services for women and girls affected by the surge in gender-based violence.  We have also provided an additional £1 million to the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women, on top of our existing £21 million contribution, to support long-term interventions for women and girl survivors of gender-based violence. We continue to prioritise tackling sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment in the aid sector.

FCDO is supporting existing partners to adapt to continue lifesaving sexual and reproductive health and rights and gender-based violence services. Our FGM prevention programmes continue to respond to protect the increased numbers of girls at risk, and WISH, FCDO’s flagship £200 million sexual and reproductive health and rights programme, is finding innovative ways to keep delivering desperately needed services and supplies during COVID-19 in 27 countries. We are also scaling up our programming with the launch next year of a new £67.5 million programme - the first ever global effort to systematically scale up proven approaches to prevent gender-based violence.