Equally Ours’s Belinda Pratten on the huge potential of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.
We all want to live in a fair and decent society. As we leave the EU, it is essential that we strengthen the UK’s ability to deliver equality, human rights and prosperity for all.
The government has said it will replace EU Structural Funds, including the European Social Fund, with a UK Shared Prosperity Fund. These EU funds have made a real difference to people experiencing disadvantage and discrimination. The Chancellor is expected to announce further details of the new UK fund when he delivers his budget on 11 March.
This is an opportunity to create a much simpler fund, making it more accessible to smaller organisations. But it must also build on what we know works for people and communities, particularly those facing barriers to, and in, the workplace.
Targeting inequality and discrimination
Appropriately targeted, the UKSPF can help to close equality employment gaps for women, BAME people, disabled people and LGBT people by designing-in equality and human rights levers, enabling businesses to do the right thing.
Equally Ours research shows that EU funding has provided significant investment to projects aimed at addressing the inequality and discrimination that harm people’s life chances and prosperity. Of the £9.3 billion allocated to the UK through European Structural and Investment Funds in 2014-2020, more than half (£5.55 billion) is linked to objectives that focus on equality issues.
This is because equality drivers have been built into EU funding streams from the outset. This includes mandatory requirements to address equal opportunities and promote social inclusion, backed up by targets to ensure programmes reach the people and communities that need them most. The European Social Fund has been particularly effective at reaching excluded groups because of these drivers. Failing to replace them as the country navigates Brexit would leave a significant gap.
Making sure the Shared Prosperity Fund works for everyone
At the same time, EU Structural Funds have been allocated according to need, with the most money going to the most disadvantaged regions. It is essential that any new funding formula respects this principle. Only in this way can the UKSPF help to level up the economy and make sure it works for everyone.
To achieve this the UKSPF needs to:
- have equality, social inclusion and sustainable development as explicit goals, with the same level of priority as economic objectives,
- provide at least the same level of investment in education, training and support to disadvantaged and discriminated against individuals and groups as current European Structural and Investment Funds,
- give local authorities responsibility for meeting these goals, reflecting the particular opportunities and challenges in their area, in partnership with local people and local voluntary and community organisations, as well as businesses.
Only in this way will the UKSPF be able to level up opportunity and ensure that everyone has access to the support they need to fulfil their potential.
Over the last year we have been working with colleagues across the UK to develop a set of shared principles which we all agree should underpin the UKSPF. It is essential that equality, social inclusion and non-discrimination are integral to any new funding system.