Shared prosperity must mean shared rights
Over the last forty years, European Union funding has provided a safety net for people facing inequality and discrimination and offered them a chance to make their lives better.
By Liz Shannon, Parliamentary and Policy Advisor at the Equality and Diversity Forum.
It has provided a lifeline to people and communities experiencing disadvantage, discrimination and abuse and provided security for the voluntary and community organisations that support them.
Amongst others, this funding helps single parents, disabled, BAME and LGBT people, young people not in employment, education and training and ex-offenders.
The funding often enables work on difficult issues and with groups for which there are often no alternative sources of funding. For instance funding helps workers at risk of discrimination and women with complex needs including homelessness, addiction, and mental ill health.
And it’s no small sum of money. Of the £9.3bn allocated to the UK through the European Structural and Investment Fund between 2014-2020, more than half (5.55bn) is linked to objectives that focus on equality issues. One of the priorities of the fund is ‘to promote social inclusion and combat poverty and any discrimination’.
So what is going to happen to this funding when we leave the EU?
Firstly, the government has made it clear that all current EU funding programmes will be honoured up until 2020.
That is pretty much where the certainty stops. Like in so many other sectors, the name of the game is ‘uncertainty’.
The government is planning to replace the EU funding with a new ‘UK Shared Prosperity Fund’. The problem is that at the moment we know very little about what it will look like. The official consultation is due in November.
Needless to say, voluntary and community organisations are pretty worried about their continued existence and how it will affect their users.
However, this could be a big opportunity for us. We can make the case for the government to follow through on some of its promises, for instance in tackling the disability employment gap.
We have a chance to influence the design of the funding criteria to make sure that equality principles and requirements are an integral part of all programmes. We can make the application and reporting processes less bureaucratic, so that it is easier for the voluntary sector to apply for the funding and use it to help communities facing disadvantage and discrimination.
We know the government is focused on economic growth and so is placing the new fund in the Industrial Strategy. In England they are doing that through working with the Local Enterprise Partnerships.
In Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales there is a great tradition of partnership working already in the design and delivery of the funds – that needs to continue.
In England particularly, we need to make the case for embedding equality in the funding programmes and demonstrate how this can be of net benefit by reducing costs to health and other public services.
Local strategies should be based on objective evidence of barriers faced by local people and informed by their views. These strategies also need to make sure that there is investment in social infrastructure (health, education, early years) as well as physical infrastructure.
Most of us in Britain want to do the right thing and live in a society based on fairness and equality. When everyone has an equal chance to get on, it keeps our country working well. When we leave the European Union, we want to continue supporting those who need help and make sure that everyone has the right to fulfill their potential.
The Shared Prosperity Fund must also mean shared rights, especially for those facing discrimination and disadvantage. Let’s make it happen!