Charities supporting disadvantaged groups across the UK have been left in limbo after the government broke its pledge to consult on replacing EU-funded services they rely on.
Disabled people, young offenders and the long-term unemployed risk losing out on “critical” support due to the loss of the European Social Fund (ESF), which provides £500m per year of EU funding to these services.
While the government has pledged to create a UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), designed to serve a similar purpose to current EU funding, charities have expressed concern after a public consultation on the new fund which was promised before the end of 2018 never emerged.
The programmes the ESF funds in the UK deliver employment and skills support to people who are poorly served or neglected by mainstream provision, including disabled people, offenders and prison leavers, the long-term unemployed and people with multiple barriers to work.
The government has said the UK will continue to participate in the ESF programme until programmes end in 2023, subject to a final negotiated agreement, which ministers said meant communities would continue to receive the same levels of funding until the end of the 2014-2020 programme period.
But charities have warned that the lack of clarity about what will happen after 2020 is leaving them “in the dark and unable to plan ahead”.
The Salvation Army said the ESF played a “critical role” in the work the charity does to help unemployed people find jobs – with 60 per cent of its employability support currently reliant on the fund.
Annie Dell, policy analyst at the charity, expressed concern that some people would no longer be able to access the specialist support that it provides with getting into work.
“Inevitably, uncertainty around this funding will make it difficult to plan the support the Salvation Army delivers every year to hundreds of individuals,” said Ms Dell. “The UKSPF should consider the unintended restrictions that some match funding streams can create. For example, some religious organisations like the Salvation Army cannot access funding that is tied with Big Lottery money, which is how some ESF funded programmes are currently co-financed.
“Discussions around how UKSPF can co-fund a range of services should make sure that all organisations can access the funding equally.”
UK Youth, an umbrella charity with 3,536 local youth associations across England, many of which rely on ESF funding, said the lack of provisions in place to protect or replace the funding source was a cause for concern.
The charity estimated that, when accounting for the loss of both the ESF and the European Regional Development Fund, services for young people and youth services would lose approximately £160m per year after Brexit.
It comes amid a backdrop of £737m worth of cuts for youth services across England since 2010-11, which has led to the major scaling back and closure of hundreds of services that had previously met a variety of young people’s complex needs.
Kayleigh Wainwright, head of membership and policy at UK Youth, said: “The ESF is a key fund from which young people benefit either directly or indirectly. As members of the EU, the UK receives extremely significant funding for young people and youth service, which have disproportionately experienced the consequence of austerity and the significant reductions in local authority spending.”
One of the charity’s members, Liverpool-based Merseyside Youth Association, said that without the funding, around 800 long-term unemployed young people would lose out on employability support each year, including some of the region’s most vulnerable and marginalised young people.
The association said it would also lead to the loss of 40 direct staffing jobs and a reduction in income for of £1.5m per year – leaving more than 21,600 of the hardest to reach people across the city without life-changing support.
The ongoing delay on the consultation has been criticised by the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA), whose members rely on EU funding to deliver employment support programmes for people who need it most.
Elizabeth Taylor, chief executive of ERSA, said she was “deeply concerned”, adding: “We need the government to consult urgently on post Brexit funding before it is too late for the organisations which rely on it. We have to ensure support continues for the thousands of people around the UK who absolutely need it, but this ongoing uncertainty risks us losing crucial services.
“For decades, the European Social Fund has provided vital funds for programmes supporting disadvantaged people into work and there is a real opportunity to design a world-leading successor fund. We want to work with government to help design that, but time is running out.”
The shadow minister for disabled people Marsha de Cordova said the "cruel and callous PIP assessment" had "created a hostile environment for disabled people."
She said: “Disabled people are being forced to wait months for vital social security and all too often face a lengthy and traumatic appeals process, resulting in a system in which thousands of people die before their PIP decision is reached. Labour will end unfair assessments for Personal Independence Payments and replace it with a framework that treats disabled people with dignity and respect.”
A government spokesperson said: “We recognise the importance of reassuring communities on the future of local growth funding once we have left the European Union and providing clarity on the UKSPF. Engagement events have been held across the UK in order to aid policy development. We’ve made good progress on the design of the UKSPF over the past year, and we intend to launch our public consultation shortly.”
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