European Social Fund (ESF)

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Is mobility required/involved?


Key areas of focus

Education, training and skill development
Entrepreneurship and SMEs


The European Social Fund focuses on:

  • improving employment opportunities in the European Union and helping raise standards of living
  • helping people to get better skills and better job prospects
  • helping equip the workforce with the skills needed by business in a competitive global economy

Key Facts

During 2014-2020, the ESF and European Regional Development Fund are investing around €11.8 billion across the UK. The ESF share of €4.9 billion is funding six operational programmes in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Gibraltar, and includes €206 million for the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI).

Priorities of the programme include:

  • boosting the adaptability of workers with new skills, and enterprises with new ways of working
  • improving access to employment by helping young people make the transition from school to work, or training less-skilled job-seekers to improve their job prospects
  • helping people from disadvantaged groups to get jobs. This is part of enhancing ‘social inclusion’ – a sign of the important role that employment plays in helping people integrate better into society and everyday life. The financial crisis has led to a redoubling of efforts to keep people in work, or help them return to work quickly if they lose their jobs.

ESF could provide support for arts and culture through, for example:

  • advice and training for entrepreneurs who wish to start a business in the cultural area
  • training for public authority staff working in culture or tourism
  • grants for students studying in artistic or cultural heritage fields
  • arts-based projects which help reintegrate unemployed people or attract young people who have left the traditional education system

Relevant Region(s)

All of Europe’s regions are classified in one of three categories according to how their GDP compares to the overall GDP of the EU. In the UK, these areas are classified as follows:

  • Less developed regions: Cornwall, West Wales and Valleys
  • Transition regions: Highlands and Islands, Tees Valley and Durham, East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire, South Yorkshire, Cumbria, Merseyside, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Devon, Northern Ireland
  • More developed regions: Everywhere else

UK Contact Points

Advice on all aspects of the European Social Fund (ESF) Programme, including how to apply, ESF guidance and support for successful projects should be made to the following: