The European Social Fund (ESF) is one of four Structural Funds designed to strengthen economic and social cohesion in the European Union.

The current programmes run from 2000 to 2006. ESF will provide about £4.5 billion in Great Britain (£3.5 billion in England) in this period.

ESF aims
ESF's main purpose is to support the annual UK Employment Action Plan, which sets out how UK policies and initiatives take account of the Employment Guidelines established within the European Employment Strategy. ESF is channelled through three Structural Fund Objectives and the EQUAL Community Initiative.

The European Social Fund aims to:


  • help unemployed and inactive people enter work
  • provide opportunities for people at a disadvantage in the labour market
  • promote lifelong learning
  • develop the skills of employed people
  • improve women's participation in the labour market

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