IDC Sub-inquiry into the philosophy of aid

1 - What do you think international aid should be for?

Our international aid should help countries to grow through enterprise, trade and development. We will use our global leadership on development to unlock finance for green growth, including reliable and honest infrastructure financing, empower and protect the freedoms of women and girls, provide life-saving humanitarian assistance, protect global health and lead the fight against climate change. Combined, this work helps to promote freedom, democracy, human rights, challenge malign actors and deliver for people in the UK.

This vision is consistent with the purpose of international aid, as set out in our domestic legislation: the International Development Acts (IDA). The IDA 2002 requires development assistance to be spent for the primary purposes of development (furthering sustainable development or improving the welfare of a country outside the UK) or humanitarian assistance. 

The UK Government also abides by the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee’s (DAC) definition of and rules for Official Development Assistance (ODA) for the majority of its international aid.  The DAC Directives make clear the purpose of ODA must be “the promotion of the economic development and welfare of developing countries as its main objective”. The one exception to this is humanitarian aid, which can be provided to countries and in circumstances which are not ODA eligible. 

2 - Is international aid effective at reducing poverty?

International aid can be an effective tool for reducing poverty. How effective it is depends on where and how it is spent, as the causes of extreme poverty faced by each country are complex. International aid can complement other sources of finance used to tackle poverty including domestic resources (such as from ODA eligible governments themselves and the private sector), as well as other international flows (remittances and foreign direct investment). In addition to finance, tackling extreme poverty typically requires inclusive economic growth, good policy and effective governance.

The UK Government has a range of tools that it uses to increase the effectiveness of its aid, as set out in the recent Programme Operating Framework (PrOF) published in 2021. The PrOF provides guidance on legislation, programme design principles (such as using evidence and analysis), procurement, delivery and financial management, to deliver value for money throughout the programme lifecycle.

The FCDO is constantly learning from the available evidence base to improve spending, such as evidence on the ‘best buys in international development and collaborating with partners to increase the effectiveness of our own and others’ aid.

3 - How should the rules and norms of international aid be set?

The UK remains committed to the rules and norms governing ODA set by the OECD DAC, to prioritise the economic development and welfare of developing countries. These rules and norms ensure a consistent, transparent and evidence-based approach amongst donors, but must be flexible to adapt to modern development challenges. The DAC must listen to partner countries, donors, civil society and the private sector; and work effectively across the multilateral system, to ensure ODA rules enable developing countries to tackle global development challenges.

4 - Who decides what success looks like and how do we measure it?

For the UK, our forthcoming international development strategy will set out the government’s strategic development goals. Priority Outcomes will be tracked via a set of metrics contained in Departmental Outcome Delivery Plans.  All FCDO development programmes undergo a formal review of progress and effectiveness at regular intervals. We are currently implementing a delivery framework approach to underpin the business and country planning process, which will provide a set of tools to help plan and review progress.

At the global level, the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a historic agreement to eradicate extreme poverty, fight inequality and achieve sustainable development for all. These Goals are universal, and the UK and all other countries are expected to contribute to them internationally. The UK tracks its progress through the Office for National Statistics (ONS) data reporting.

The UK also supports the OECD-DAC Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, which sets a roadmap to improve the quality of aid and its impact on development. This includes principles that relate closely to how we define and measure success. Principles on i) Ownership: that developing countries set their own strategies; ii) Alignment: that donor countries align behind these objectives; and iii) Mutual accountability: donors and partners are accountable for development results. The UK supports the implementation of this framework in our bilateral agreements at the country level.

5 - Should aid be finite and, if so, what should be the trigger to ending it?

The UK Government supports aid recipient countries to become more self-sufficient through sustainable economic growth, with the ultimate aim that they no longer require ODA and are stable, open and prosperous societiesWhile it is sometimes appropriate to give humanitarian aid to high-income countries, the DAC system for graduation from ODA eligibility works well for the most part.  The UK Government has been supporting some reforms to the DAC approach to graduation from ODA eligibility for very small states, to recognise their vulnerability.

6 - Should aid be conditional, and what should those conditions be?

The FCDO attaches terms and conditions to all its spending, with careful monitoring and evaluation, so that stated objectives are achieved. However, the FCDO does not attach conditions to aid that seek wider policy or reform objectives not linked to the purpose of the funding in question. Effective aid partnerships should be informed by, and built around, a shared commitment to reducing poverty, achieving our shared global goals, respecting human rights and international obligations and strengthening financial management, whilst reducing the risk of funds being misused through weak administration or corruption.

7 - Is it helpful to distinguish between humanitarian aid and long-term development spending?

Maintaining the distinction between humanitarian and development spending is central to building an environment conducive for impartial humanitarian action to take place. Impartial humanitarian assistance is protected under International Humanitarian Law in conflict settings.

Humanitarian and development assistance can be more effective when they are delivered in close coordination. For instance, longer-term development assistance has a critical role to play in building societies that are more resilient to conflict, Covid-19 and the impacts of climate change, alongside life-saving humanitarian assistance. Beyond this, humanitarian efforts are a very visible way of projecting UK values across the globe; and are an area of strong convergence and agreement with allies.

8 - What are the benefits and motivations for donors and for recipient countries?

All UK ODA is primarily delivered with the economic development and wellbeing of the partner country as its goal, but ODA also benefits the UK, both through protecting and promoting our security and prosperity interests, and delivering global public goods. Secondary benefits also include market creation, national security and a strengthened rules-based international system. As set out in the Integrated Review, the UK Government can use its assets, such as the diplomatic network, aid spending and the armed forces, to help create goodwill towards the UK.

For partner countries, UK aid can provide capital for investment, build capacity, support services, and contribute to institutional change, economic growth and freedoms. For example, UK ODA is supporting Covid-19 vaccinations for over 90 developing countries and is working towards getting 40 million more girls into school by 2025.

9 - What are the risks and drawbacks for donors and recipient countries?

The FCDO maintains high standards of programme delivery, risk management and due diligence. However, international aid is delivered in some of the most complex and fragile environments in the world, and on some of the most complex policy issues: this brings risks. For donors, risks include the security and safety of aid workers, and potential for fraud. For highly aid dependent countries there are potential risks that foreign aid crowds out private investment, creates dependency and can be unsustainable where there isn’t the ownership, capacity or appetite for initiatives to continue after exit. These risks are mitigated through the formal review of the progress and effectiveness of all development programmes.

10 - Should the UK have an aid budget? Why is this?

The UK is a world leader in international development, and ODA spend is part of how we achieve not only our goals of poverty reduction and the SDGs, but also an open and resilient international order, which protects human rights, addresses conflict, instability and climate change, and shared prosperity through trade and investment. We are a problem-solving and burden-sharing nation with a global perspective.  We believe we have a responsibility, the capacity and expertise to play an active part in sustaining an international order in which open societies and economies continue to flourish.

11 - What should be included in the UK’s international development strategy and what does the economic growth model set out in the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy mean for the development strategy?

The Integrated Review committed the Government to preparing an international development strategy to set out a blueprint for the UK’s development offer to 2030 and how this contributes to wider UK priorities. The international development strategy (IDS) will establish an ambitious and positive vision for the UK’s approach to development in a new global context, set out the UK Government’s strategic development goals and lay out how the UK plans to remain a leader on development. The IDS will draw on the analysis of the IR and will reflect the full range of parameters that shape economic growth.

12 - Should all donors work towards the collective aims set out in the Sustainable Development Goals or should they have flexibility to pursue their own priorities and development strategies outlined by recipient countries?

Agenda 2030 rightly recognises the need for flexibility in achieving its ambitious aims. As a framework, it is non-prescriptive and one of its strengths lies in acknowledging that governments need to incorporate the SDGs as suits their individual circumstances. The indivisibility of the SDGs reflects their interrelated nature and the inclusive process through which they were negotiated. It also reflects that both developed and developing countries will have differing expertise and unique contributions to make towards the global agenda. The UK focuses its aid work on those areas where we can have the greatest impact.

13 - Is there a ‘gold standard’ that donors should aspire to and are there examples of best practice among donor countries?

OECD DAC Peer Reviews are considered the ‘gold standard’ in assessing DAC members’ development efforts. They are retrospective and take place on a five-year basis, with monitoring against recommendations in the interim. This Peer Review process reflects the best of the DAC’s unique role and focus on continuous learning.

14 - How is the UK Government held accountable to the UK taxpayer and the countries and communities where the programmes it funds are delivered?

The FCDO remains committed to transparency and accountability in the UK’s aid spending and continues to publish funding details of our development programmes. It is right that UK taxpayers’ money spent overseas receives thorough scrutiny. As well as internal scrutiny there are currently five forms of external scrutiny on ODA in the UK:

The Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) undertakes circa eight reviews per annum scrutinising UK aid spending. ICAI focuses on maximising the impact of the UK aid budget for intended beneficiaries and getting the best value for money for the UK taxpayer.

The International Development Committee (IDC) scrutinises Official Development Assistance (ODA)-related spending, administration and policies of the FCDO and monitors the expenditure of ODA by other UK Government departments.

National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee both scrutinise public spending through value-for-money studies of FCDO’s policies and programmes.

OECD DAC Peer Reviews also provide an assessment of DAC members’ development efforts.

The FCDO is committed to accountability in country and communities. We seek to work in partnership with our host governments, where appropriate, who are themselves accountable to their citizens.  Where it is inappropriate to work with host governments, we work through implementing partners – either local, national or multinational – or multilateral institutions – which are either strongly embedded in the societies they are supporting or accountable to the international community.

Beneficiary engagement is embedded in the FCDO’s Programme Operating Framework, as a tool to help us deliver successful outcomes, and to safeguard beneficiaries. There is an associated set of guidance on Beneficiary Engagement, which sets out the considerations, approaches and principles for teams to utilise.   

15 - What impact does aid spending have on international power dynamics?

Our development spending will support the vision set out in the Integrated Review, shaping the international order of the future, and underpinning democratic and free societies. This will help enable developing states to grow economically, to trade, to engage with and support the rules-based international order, and jointly face global challenges shoulder to shoulder with their developed peers. Combined, our efforts will help to promote prosperity, good governance, human rights and a free press, offering our developing partner countries an alternative to support with strings attached from malign actors.

16 - How does international aid interplay with other sources of income such as international trade, remittances, domestic tax bases and philanthropy?

The interplay between aid and other income sources can be understood as threefold. First, aid to invest in developing countries’ policy and institutional foundations for the more effective use of other, existing income sources. Second, to invest in unlocking more income from other sources, such as the domestic tax base. Third, the more traditional role of directly financing development goals. Aid effectiveness requires a balance between these three options, tailored to the nature of the diagnosed challenges in each context.


17 - What is the role of different development actors such as International financial institutions, multilateral organisations, large International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs), small INGOs and national NGOs?

Multilateral Organisations provide a global platform to facilitate and accelerate collective action on difficult issues, and they can coordinate action which goes beyond national and institutional barriers. They are key delivery partners and complement the UK’s bilateral portfolio - they expand the UK’s reach by operating in countries where the UK does not, deliver vital services at scale, leverage additional funding and coordinate action around global challenges.

International Financial Institutions (IFIs), like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank Group and other multilateral development banks, are vital complements to national development efforts. IFIs’ added value stems from their: scale and reach; financial leveraging abilities; global convening power (for example on crisis response and cross-cutting issues like debt vulnerability); knowledge sharing and analytical expertise.

INGOs have an important role in the aid sector due to their scale, expertise, connection to the UK public and ability to amplify issues at the global stage and to learn across contexts. Civil society is, and should be, vibrant, pluralistic and diverse at all levels of society and the aid sector reflects this with everything from informal, grassroots, locally led organisations to large INGOs, and from narrow technical specialist organisations to those with broad, holistic models playing an active role. However, there is a growing recognition that the balance needs to shift towards a more locally led approach. This will mean increased leadership, delivery and ownership by local organisations. Supporting Southern-based CSOs is increasingly a priority for the FCDO as it helps to deliver the vision set out in the Integrated Review for open societies.

18 - What are attitudes toward aid spending in donor and recipient countries?

Aid and development are low knowledge and low salience issues for the majority. They are not something which is top of the mind for much of the UK population unless seen in the news, or if prompted with questions on these topics. This means that understanding public interest and preference when it comes to aid can be difficult; question wording and issue framing can shift levels of support.

At present, just over half of the UK public supports the amount the Government is spending on aid when presented with the proportion and financial value of government spending on overseas aid, but there is a lack of faith in how effective aid is. When asked to rank how effective government spending on overseas aid is on a ten-point scale, only around one in five (22%) rank it between 6-10. The public also has concerns about waste and corruption; 66% think a lot ends up ‘in the pockets of corrupt officials’, and 51% think most financial aid to poor countries ‘is wasted’.

19 - How does the UK’s aid spending affect how the UK is seen by other countries?

The Integrated Review set out that the UK is one of the world’s leading development actors; one of the world’s largest providers of ODA, well above Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) averages; and that we focus our aid work on those areas which are important to a globally-focused UK and where we can have the greatest life-changing impact in the long term.

The UK’s reputation and leadership on international development helps us to convene global leaders to tackle the major issues of the day and project a positive, outward-looking Global Britain that delivers for people across the UK. Across policy areas, the FCDO engages with a wide range of stakeholders, including other countries in the OECD, developing country partner governments, and in new partnerships, such as with the Gulf.

External indices on aid spending have shown that other partners see the UK as an influential and positive partner. For example, the latest Aid Data Listening to Leaders Index (which asks direct questions about the influence and helpfulness of bilateral and multilateral donors, from the perspective of leaders in low and middle-income countries) found that the UK is among the top 10 influencers (3rd highest placed country) and ranked 15th out of 68 for its helpfulness.