Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

European Union - European Social Fund European Funding Network

Personal tools

You are here: Home / Funding / European Social Fund / What is ESF?

What is ESF?

The European Social Fund (ESF) is part of the European Structural Funds which seek to reduce differences in prosperity and enhance economic and social cohesion across the EU.

The European Social Fund

The ESF was set up to to help people into work and to invest skills and training of those furthest from the labour market.

What is it for?

ESF supports and assists in:
  • training
  • enhancing access to employment and social inclusion
  • development and improvement of skills
  • contribution to combating poverty
  • increase labour participation of women
  • integration into employment of migrants
  • improvement of public services
  • creation of a skilled and adaptable workforce
  • innovation in SMEs
  • access to start-up capital

Operational Programmes

There are different Operational programmes for the devolved administration in the UK which set out the development strategy that ESF will support in the different countries.
The 2014-2020 Operational Programmes have not yet been adopted and should be available from June 2015. Read more about the 2007-2013 programmes in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

What are the target groups?

There are two main priorities in the 2007 to 2013 ESF programme in England with different target groups,
Priority 1 - 'Extending employment opportunities’.  The target groups are the following who are unemployed or have become inactive in the labour market:
  • disabled people
  • lone parents
  • people aged over 50
  • people from ethnic minorities
  • people without good qualifications; and
  • young people not in education, employment or training.
Priority 2 - 'Developing a skilled and adaptable workforce'. The target groups are:
  • people in the workforce who lack basic skills
  • people without good qualifications or least likely to receive training.
  • managers and employees in small firms,
  • people made redundant or at risk of redundancy.

How much money is available?

ESF will invest 3.5 billion Euros in England between 2014 and 2020.

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.

In the programme 2007-2013, the  England ESF programme invested £5 billion over seven years of which £2.5 billion is from the ESF and £2.5 billion is national funding.

How you can apply for ESF

There are various ways that you can apply:
  • See our funding opportunities page for ESF Community Grants in your area
  • Via the Opt in Organisations where match funding is arranged for the project
  • Through open calls
  • Through Technical Assistance (TA) funding for organisations to help with the monitoring, and capacity building for implementing the funds.


EU funds only cover a part of a projects’ costs so the rest of the funds need to be secured by ‘matching it’ through EU public or private funding.
Through direct bidding you can only apply for a maximum of 45% of your project costs from ESF. The remainder of your project costs have to come from other, non-European sources – this is called match funding.

Opt-in Organisations for 2014-2020