The European Social Fund (ESF) has helped 2.2 million people in the UK develop their skills and improve their job prospects, according to James Plaskitt, the government’s Work and Pensions Secretary, who is responsible for ESF in the UK.
Mr Plaskitt was speaking at the ESF at Work Conference, which was held in Manchester as part of Britain’s term of presidency of the EU. The conference, which saw the attendance of over 350 delegates from across Europe, examined how the ESF is helping to enhance employment prospects and growth in the UK, in line with EU strategy.
“Vulnerable people in our most deprived communities have been given opportunities thanks to ESF funding developed in partnership with the public, private and voluntary sectors,” Mr Plaskitt said.
The UK has been allocated £5 billion of ESF money from the 2000-2006 budget. Some of this money is specifically designed to help areas of the country that are falling being European levels of employment, or facing problems such as industrial decline. The ESF also provides help for those people in the UK who need additional support to find work, improve their skills, and develop their potential once in a job. These people may include the long-term unemployed, people from minority ethnic communities, people with disabilities, older workers, and those lacking basic skills and qualifications.
Most ESF funding in England is received through the Jobcentre Plus, the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) and other agencies. The Scottish Executive, Welsh European Funding Office and the Northern Ireland Office are responsible for ESF in their respective areas. Many local organisations receive ESF funding in order to provide training at a community level thus ensuring that the funding is targeted at the areas with the greatest need of this assistance.
One of these is Bolton WISE, a company that, with ESF support, allows adults to obtain training and transitional employment for up to 26 weeks. This can be in such diverse areas as hairdressing, landscape gardening and business administration.
Delegates at the Conference were shown a film featuring individuals who have benefited from ESF help. These included 29-year-old Jo Maeva, who was able to train as a carpenter through the ESF-supported Lambeth’s Women’s Workshop. “Being unemployed is just mind-numbing, “Ms Maeva said, “I needed to get myself a trade. Lambeth’s Women’s Workshop took me in and gave me free training to get where I wanted.”
The Workshop, which is a charity and voluntary organisation that receives funding from ESF via the LSC, was set up in 1980 to help train unemployed women and get them back to work. Three quarters of women leaving the workshop have gone on to employment or further education and training. Through the Workshop, Ms Maeva gained an NVQ Level 1 in Wood Occupations, and went on to gain a Level 2 qualification at Mid-Kent College in Maidstone.
She is now feeling positive about the future, saying, “I have been using my carpentry skills building sets for photo-shoots and exhibitions, which I”m really enjoying.” The conference heard how she hopes to gain full-time employment on film sets and photo shoots.
Mr Plaskitt was keen to stress that Ms Maeva’s happy ending was not unique. “More people now have basic skills and qualifications, and more people are moving towards employment or are in jobs,” he said. “We believe that work is the best route out of poverty and dependence.”
However, despite the heartening news, Mr Plaskitt stressed that the conference “is not just about celebrating the achievements of ESF.” It is important, he said, to “look forward, learn from our achievements, and prepare for future challenges.”
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