The government must act urgently to build a new world-leading initiative to replace funds for disadvantaged communities after Brexit, the Work and Pensions Committee heard today.

Frontline employment support providers told committee members that the European Social Fund (ESF) provides £500 million per year in England alone for programmes supporting people furthest from the job market into education, training and employment.

This funds projects across the UK to support vulnerable groups who may not access mainstream government services, including people with mental health conditions, ex-offenders and young people with learning difficulties.

MPs heard how a successor initiative can improve on ESF to help more people than ever before, engage with communities more effectively and channel more money to the frontline. 

However, a consultation on the UK Shared Prosperity Fund – the potential successor fund to ESF outlined in the Conservative manifesto – is not expected until the later this year, raising concerns that an initiative will not be in place by the time Britain leaves the EU next year.

Without a replacement initiative in place, there will be a significant gap in support for disadvantaged groups, such as the AIM4Work programme delivered by Shaw Trust which helps people over the age of 25 with common mental health conditions into work in South, North and East London.

Sam Windett of the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) and Elizabeth Chamberlain of the NCVO gave the committee key recommendations to ensure a world-class successor initiative is in place at the earliest opportunity. They stressed the importance of safeguarding ESF investment to avoid the loss of funding for disadvantaged communities after the current phase ends in 2020. 

Commenting on today’s inquiry, Sam Windett, ERSA’s Head of Policy and Communications, said: 

‘The government has a unique opportunity to develop its own funding initiative that builds on the best aspects of the European Social Fund whilst addressing its flaws. The fund is worth £500 million in England alone and offers vital skills and employment support to those groups often neglected by mainstream services. However, the government needs to act now on today’s recommendations to help build more inclusive communities across the UK.’ 

Elizabeth Chamberlain, Head of Policy at NCVO said:

‘For years the European Social Fund has enabled organisations to significantly support disadvantaged groups, building their ability to fulfil their potential, participate in society and contribute to economic growth. Failure to ensure it is replaced would have serious consequences on our country’s agenda for economic growth and social cohesion. So the Committee’s interest and the opportunity they have given us today to discuss these issues is very welcome, and I hope it will mean government will act swiftly on the inquiry’s recommendations.’

Notes to editors
For further information and a quote, please contact Matt Byrne on 0203 757 9416

In a paper published in December a cross-sector working group led by ERSA and the NCVO set out six design principles for the successor fund to the European Social Funds (ESF) after the UK.