Brexit: what will happen to the European Social Fund?

The Work and Pensions Committee has been conducting an inquiry into the future of the European Social Fund.

This fund provides £500 million each year

“for employment support programmes for people who struggle to access and benefit from mainstream support.  This includes disabled people, ex-offenders, and the long-term unemployed.

The future of ESF-type funding after Brexit is currently uncertain. Leaving the European Union could offer the UK an opportunity to design its own, improved version of the funding. The Committee is considering the case for a successor fund to the ESF, and what this fund might look like.

The report released yesterday says the government will create a UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) which “will serve a similar purpose to the existing European Structural and Investment Funds (ESI—of which ESF is one)”.

But will it?

Witnesses in the inquiry emphasised that the transition between European Social Fund monies and future funding must be “seamless and immediate”. A gap in funding would be a ‘nightmare scenario”. 

Just one example given was the testimony by Steve Hawkins, Chief Executive of Pluss. This is a Community Interest Company who supports people with disabilities in finding employment. Mr Hawkins outlined some of the issues faced:

Rural isolation, for example, where people are further away and require additional support, whether it be housing issues, transportation needs, training or confidence building, a whole range of things that need to be addressed fundamentally before they are in a position to sit in front of an interview panel and secure a job.

The Work and Pensions Committee says:

We recommend the Government proceed urgently with detailed design of a successor to the European Social Fund so that there is no gap between existing and new funding streams. This should include:

a) establishing a new arm’s length body, or creating an arrangement with an existing one, to hold the fund’s budget, dovetailing existing funding streams so programmes can meet effectively all of their participants’ needs;

b) retaining a separate fund within the UKSPF for employment support. The separate fund should focus on innovative projects that offer work opportunities and skills development to disadvantaged groups (for example, disabled people) in areas of clear economic and social need.

c) ensuring flexibility of local funding mechanisms for both longer-term (with funding cycles of at least seven years, as in the current fund) and short-term programmes; and

d) reducing overall bureaucracy for providers enabling them to focus on what really matters: value for money, building understanding of “what works” in employment support, and fostering new entrants.

This is just one more area where, unless it is properly sorted, millions of people will be terribly affected by Brexit. I have to admit, I knew nothing of the ESF until picking up this headline today, but the ramifications of getting it wrong are terrible.

* Kirsten Johnson was the PPC for Oxford East in the 2017 General Election. She is a pianist and composer at

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  • We will stop paying into it. We’ll be well quids in.

  • Instead of a social fund why don’t the Lib Dems have an economic policy of targeting unemployment to 2% of British residents. Work with the Job centres, training agencies and colleges not to just give training but to place people into work. Employers could have the employers NIC paid for and pay for NMW with constant mentoring of employees for say 6 months. The employer will have to say why they SHOULDN’T take the person on. This could be allied to the same state support for IT and other courses that are afforded to university students.

    Stop pretending that Osbornite nudging works and start attacking unemployment with the aspirationally unemployed.

  • Richard Underhill 8th May '18 - 12:28pm

    Yesterday the House of Lords debated an amendment to the Brexit legislation. It was moved by Patten, presumably Chris Patten the former EU Commissioner.
    My noble friend John Alderdice was passionate about Northern Ireland. He is a former leader of the non-sectarian Alliance Party. When he was President of the Liberal International he arranged a conference in Belfast and criticised the Home Office for refusing visas. He was the first Speaker of the devolved assembly which resulted from the Good Friday Agreement, an assembly in which the late Ian Paisley and former Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams were both members. He has been Liberal Democrat spokesman on Northern Ireland. He has qualified as a consultant psychiatrist. His intelligence is frightening.
    Other notables speaking included Lord Eames, David Trimble (former Unionist leader at the time, now a Tory), former defence minister King (Tory0 former Home Secretary Reid, Labour, Adonis, Labour).
    The red benches were full. A vote on amendment 62 is awaited.
    He was followed by Alex Carlile QC, a security expert, now crossbench-independent, who differed

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