The current state of UK aid: A synthesis of ICAI findings from 2015 to 2019

Over the period from 2015 to 2019, ICAI has accumulated a rich body of evidence on the performance of UK aid. We have drawn together the key findings from across the 28 reviews and four follow-ups conducted over the last four years to produce an analysis of the current state of UK aid and the challenges ahead.

  1. Status: Completed
  2. Published: 20 June 2019
  3. Type: Other
  4. Subject: Cross-cutting, UK aid trends
  5. Assessment: Unrated
  6. Lead commissioner: Richard Gledhill

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Our ‘synthesis review’ is based on findings from 28 reviews, four follow-up reports and a number of other reports produced during the 2015-19 period. The review draws out key findings and themes from across this body of work, exploring how well UK aid has delivered in its main areas of activity.


The results of this work are presented under five themes:

  • Leaving no one behind: DFID has responded well to the ‘leave no one behind principle’, despite substantial practical challenges, but other aid-spending departments are yet to adopt the commitment.
  • Promoting jobs and economic transformation: A more convincing approach and set of instruments for promoting economic development have been developed but remain new and untested. Considerable work is needed to learn how to deploy these tools effectively and in combination to meet the unique needs of each partner country.
  • Conflict and crisis: UK aid has shown it can deliver in the midst of conflict, in some of the world’s most challenging contexts, giving the UK more flexibility to pursue its objectives and enhance its leadership role in the international response to crises. However, UK aid does not yet have a convincing approach to addressing the long-term drivers of conflict and fragility.
  • Global threats: The UK has demonstrated on many occasions that it can be highly influential in shaping the international response to global crises, especially in the form of providing technical expertise, but the most pressing global challenges – particularly climate change and antimicrobial resistance – call for greater urgency and intensity of action.
  • The changing profile of UK aid: The government has clearly signaled its intention to use the aid programme to pursue direct UK national interests, in particular, by helping to position the UK as a key trade and investment partner with frontier economies. While the pursuit of mutual prosperity is not necessarily in conflict with good development practice, the focus needs to remain on building long-term opportunities, rather than securing short-term advantage.


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Published 20 June 2019