In March 2020, COVID-19 prompted policy change in the UK at a speed and scale only seen during wartime. Throughout, UK government ministers emphasised their reliance on science and expertise to make the right choices at the right time, while their critics argued that ministers ignored key evidence and acted too little too late. Lessons from this debate should have a profound effect on future action, but only if based on a systematic analysis of policymaking as the problem emerged in real time. We should not confuse hindsight with foresight. To that end, I combine insights from policy analysis guides, policy theories, and critical policy analysis to frame this debate. The pandemic exposes the need to act despite high ambiguity and uncertainty and low government control, using trial-and-error strategies to adapt to new manifestations of the problem, and producing unequal consequences for social groups. Lessons will only have value if we incorporate these policymaking limitations and unequal socioeconomic effects and ask the right questions when holding the UK government to account.


© Springer Nature Limited 2020

Cite as

Cairney, P. 2020, 'The UK government's COVID-19 policy: assessing evidence-informed policy analysis in real time', British Politics, 16(1), pp. 90-116. https://doi.org/10.1057/s41293-020-00150-8

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Last updated: 17 June 2022
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