Effectiveness of UK aid: interim findings Contents

4Delivery and performance of UK aid

UK aid results

45.The Department for International Development’s (DFID’s) own data and independent assessments performed by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) and the National Audit Office (NAO) show that UK aid is securing impact.

Department for International Development (DFID)

46.DFID publishes its performance against its Single Departmental Plan objectives on its website.98 These data show that UK aid is producing development assistance results. Table 8 summarises some key achievements.

Figure 8: DFID Single Departmental Plan—Summary performance results achieved by sector and indicator, 2018–19

Aid sector or indicator

Performance results

Humanitarian assistance

From 2015 to March 2019, DFID reached 32.6 million people with humanitarian assistance (food aid, cash and voucher transfers).


Between 2015 and 2019, DFID supported 14.3 million children to gain a decent education.


Between 2015 and 2019, DFID reached 50.6 million children under 5, women of childbearing age and adolescent girls through its nutrition-related interventions.


From the start of 2015 until the end of 2017, UK support to immunisation programmes immunised an estimated 56.4 million children, saving an estimated 990,000 lives.

Polio eradication

DFID supports the Global Polio Eradication Initiative to eradicate polio. The number of polio cases has reduced from 350,000 in 1988, to 74 in 2015 and 33 in 2018.

Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)

Between 2015 and 2019, DFID supported 51.8 million people to access clean water and/or better sanitation.

Jobs and income

From 2015 to 2019, DFID supported 3.9 million people to raise their incomes or maintain/gain a better job or livelihood.


From 2015 to 2019, DFID installed 467 Megawatts of clean energy capacity.

Portfolio Quality Index (PQI)

DFID uses a Portfolio Quality Index (PQI) score to measure the extent to which its projects are on track to deliver their expected outputs. In 2018, DFID’s PQI score was 103.8 indicating that, on average, DFID’s outputs met or exceeded expectations.

Sources: DFID, Single Departmental Plan—Results Achieved by Sector 2018–19; and DFID, Single Departmental Plan—Results Achieved by Sector 2018–19, Portfolio Quality Index

Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI)

47.In its 2019 synthesis report, ICAI concluded that UK aid has made major contributions to global development goals; and the Department for International Development (DFID) has shown strong leadership in driving evaluation; and on the ‘leave no one behind’ principle, in strengthening the international response to challenges such as Ebola and climate change, and in tackling violence against women and girls.99 However, ICAI noted that:

National Audit Office (NAO)

48.In written evidence, the National Audit Office (NAO) stated that its value for money work on overseas aid spending by DFID and government more widely has highlighted evidence of individual programmes securing impact.101 Figure 9 summarises the key conclusions from three of the most recent NAO reports. However, the NAO has drawn attention to some difficulties with assessing programme performance, such as impact and value for money:102

As a consequence of these difficulties, while there is good evidence that many aid programmes are securing an impact individually, the government does not know whether all parts of the overseas aid portfolio, taken together, are securing value for money.107

49.UK aid often seeks to create impact in challenging environments, where monitoring impact is difficult. However, this should not preclude departments administering ODA from setting objectives aligned to the UK Aid Strategy and seeking to monitor and evaluate change, in order to achieve the fullest picture possible of the totality of the UK’s aid spend and the impacts it is securing.

Figure 9: Key conclusion from three NAO reports on international development108

NAO report


DFID’s investments through CDC Group (2016)

The NAO was broadly positive about CDC’s performance. The report concluded that CDC had addressed many of the weaknesses previously identified by Parliament; and it was achieving the financial and non-financial targets set for it by DFID.

Effectiveness of Official Development Assistance spending (2019)

The report noted the Government’s success in meeting the 0.7% ODA spending target since 2013; and that many programmes within the ODA spending portfolio were securing an impact individually.

DFID’s work to improve the lives of women and girls overseas (2020)

DFID had in place some of the management arrangements the NAO would expect to see for DFID to be confident about delivery; and individual programme interventions to improve gender equality were performing well and improving the lives of women and girls overseas. Furthermore, DFID is widely respected internationally for its broad range of influencing activities in this area.

Performance of DFID

50.Oral evidence and written evidence submissions were almost unanimous in their respect for DFID’s international standing as a leading global development agency; and the excellence of its programming and transparency. This should not perhaps be a surprise. Over the two decades of its existence, DFID, as a specialist aid ministry, has had the opportunity to build up a strong track record in development; has invested in its capacity and capability; and has developed systems and expertise for appraising the costs and benefits of competing interventions, managing projects, and measuring, recording and evaluating results.109

51.By contrast, according to ICAI’s written evidence submission, “other aid-spending departments are still putting in place basic aid-management systems and processes. […] Across our reviews of non-DFID aid, we have found gaps in systems for ensuring ODA eligibility, setting and monitoring results targets, ensuring value for money and managing complex portfolios”.110 In written evidence, the Center for Global Development drew attention to its review of 65 ICAI reports that showed 80 percent of DFID spend received amber/green ratings or better, while 80% of FCO spend was amber/red. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has a mixed record but the Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Department for Health & Social Care (DHSC) achieved amber/green in their single reviews.111

52.Nonetheless, other departments and cross-government funds are catching up and improving. Furthermore, according to ICAI, UK aid is benefiting from drawing on the skills and expertise available across government.112 Examples include:

These are positive signs that UK aid spending by other government departments appears to be on a positive trajectory. Reorganising the administration of aid spending at this stage risks disruption and pulling them off that path.

Transparency and quality of UK aid

Transparency of UK aid

53.The Government is clear that transparency of aid expenditure is an important aspect of securing value for money. The UK aid strategy set an ambition that all UK government departments that spend the ODA budget would be ranked as ‘good’ or ‘very good’ in the international Aid Transparency Index (ATI) by 2020.

54.While DFID scores well on transparency, Publish What You Fund and James Rogers, in written evidence, drew attention to the lack of transparency over the substantial amounts of aid disbursed through large multilateral development partners, such as the World Bank, and CDC Group.119 120

Figure 10: Transparency of UK aid spending: overall scores and rankings of ODA spending departments

Figure 10: Transparency of UK aid spending: overall scores and rankings of ODA spending departments

Source: Publish What You Fund, How transparent is UK aid? A review of ODA spending departments, Jan 2020, Graph 1

55.The UK Aid Strategy set an ambition that all UK government departments that spend the ODA budget will be ranked as ‘good’ or ‘ very good’ in the international Aid Transparency Index (ATI) by 2020. To date, only three departments—DFID, DHSC and BEIS—had met the target. Departments need to improve the transparency of their aid spending. The Government must set out how it intends to measure progress towards the commitment to publish data to global transparency standards, with milestones, and hold relevant Secretaries of State and departmental officials to account for failing to meet target dates.

Quality of UK aid

56.In February 2019, ONE Campaign published the results of its ‘Real Aid Index’ which assessed the quality of UK aid spending—focussing on poverty reduction, effectiveness and transparency—across different government departments.121 DFID scored highly on the index (Figure 11).

57.ONE’s report and the written responses of Romilly Greenhill’s and ONE drew attention to shortcomings in the way that other Whitehall departments spend ODA.122 In particular:

Figure 11: ONE Campaign’s ‘Real Aid’ index findings

Figure 11: ONE Campaign’s ‘Real Aid’ index findings

Note: The Prosperity Fund is analysed under the FCO

Source: ONE, Real aid index, Feb 2019

Independent scrutiny of UK aid spending

58.In the UK, there is a comparatively robust architecture for scrutinising UK aid, principally the House of Commons International Development Committee (IDC), ICAI, and the NAO. ICAI reports to the IDC through the ICAI Sub-Committee. NAO reports are typically considered by the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts. Independent scrutiny of ODA spending is recognised in the 0.7% spending target legislation.124

59.In written evidence, the Center for Global Development stated that one of the key strengths of the UK aid system was that it had an operationally independent watchdog (ICAI), accompanied by good parliamentary scrutiny.125

60.UK aid should be scrupulously monitored to help ensure it is fulfilling its remit to eradicate extreme poverty and delivering value for money for the taxpayer. The current independent scrutiny regime is one of the strengths of UK aid. These scrutiny arrangements should continue—particularly as ODA is increasingly disbursed across government departments. If DFID’s functions are absorbed into another government department, parliamentary scrutiny should continue under a standalone parliamentary committee that scrutinises UK ODA which ICAI should report to.

Published: 9 June 2020