The European Social Fund – how charities can make the most of new opportunities

The new European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) 2014-2020 Programme is due to start next year. Here’s how your organisation can take advantage of it.

EU funding for social inclusion

The European Social Fund (ESF) is set up to help people to become more employable and enter the labour market. The new programme, running from 2014 to 2020, will focus on:

  • skills
  • employment
  • social inclusion.

New rules require that at least 20% of ESF is allocated to activities promoting social inclusion and combating poverty. Over the lifetime of the Programme, this could be worth around £500m in England supporting disadvantaged people and communities taking steps towards the labour market.

The kind of activities aimed at promoting social inclusion will have particular focus on reaching and supporting those with complex and multiple barriers, improving their skills, and helping them gain qualifications in order to move closer to the labour market. These activities could include:

  • helping to build confidence and personal development
  • initial help with basic skills
  • taster work experience, including voluntary work.

Some future ESF activities will also fund di gital inclusion such as improving digital literacy and competency for the most disadvantaged.

As previously announced, the Big Lottery Fund is planning to provide around £260m of match funding for activities promoting social inclusion giving voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations more access to the new programme.

36 out of the 39 Local Enterprise Partnership areas have indicated in their ESIF strategies that they plan to opt-in to the Big Lottery’s Building Better Opportunities programme. Go to the Big Lottery’s website to see if your LEP-area has opted-in and for what amount.

Applying for funding and finding match funding

When the programme starts next year, there will be different routes for applying for funding. Around 30% of all ESF will be available as a grant or a contract and potential applicants will be required to source their own match funding.

Some LEP areas have selected Community Led Local Development as one way of spending part of their Social Inclusion allocations: in this case too the Local Action Groups, who will drive the strategy, will also have to source the match funding to carry out activities in specific deprived geographic areas.

A big chunk of ESF, 70% in fact, will be routed via three national opt-in organisations and one national co-financing organisation where applicants do not have to worry about finding their own match funding as they will be able to apply for pre-matched grants or contracts.

The Big Lottery Fund is the main opt-in for Social Inclusion and anti-poverty activities, and is planning to offer cash match, alongside ESF to each individual project. The Department for Work and Pensions is the opt-in for Employment and the Skills Funding Agency, for skills, traineeships and apprenticeships. The National Offender Management Service will be supporting offenders and ex-offenders to re-enter the labour market.

Details of the application processes are being worked up for all entry routes and we expect the final mechanisms to be confirmed early in 2015.

Preparing for the 2014-2020 programme

The UK Partnership Agreement was recently adopted by the European Commission, but they are still in the process of agreeing elements of the 2014-2020 ESIF Operational Programmes – the documents that detail priorities, funding allocations and targets for the Programmes.

The bad news is that this will result almost certainly in further delays to the launch of the ESIF Growth Programme with funding not being available before mid-2015 or later.

The good news is that the Big Lottery Fund has awarded £630,000 in development grants to 36 organisations, mainly from voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations, to help raise awareness within England’s VCSE sector of the opportunities available through the ESF.

These 36 local contact points across England, will also provide advice and guidance on the new ESF programme and  help local partners and organisations discuss the social inclusion needs identified in your area and how best to tackle those priorities.

A list of the awarded organisations from your area and details on how to contact them are available on the Big Lottery Fund’s website.

What happens next?

If you’re thinking about applying for EU funding in the future, you should:

  1. read your LEP’s ESIF Strategy to see how your project may fit with the priorities identified
  2. contact your local contact point to start discussions about identifying the social inclusion needs in your area
  3. register your interest with the Big Lottery Fund’s Building Better Opportunities programme to be kept informed of developments.
  4. book your free place at NCVO’s national event on the European Structural and Investment Funds: from policy to practice – how will the Voluntary and Community sector engage in the new Programme on 10 December 2014.

More information

Follow developments on the European Social Fund on our European Funding Network website.

ESF logo

There is also a new section on the England ESIF Programme on the website.

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Sara was the European Social Fund (ESF) officer, responsible for supporting the delivery of 'Civil Society Active for ESF'.

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