What is the European Social Fund Plus?

The European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) is the European Union (EU)’s main instrument for investing in people and supporting the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights. 

For the 2021-2027 period, the ESF was merged with the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI), the Fund for European Aid to the most Deprived (FEAD), and the directly managed Employment and Social Innovation (EaSI) Programme, to become the ESF+. The aim of the ESF+ is to achieve high employment levels, fair social protection, and a skilled and resilient workforce for the future world of work, in line with the principles set out in the European Pillar of Social Rights. 

The European Social Fund Plus provides over €10 billion annually across the European Union. Each country in the European Union avails of this funding to improve job prospects for millions of people and create a more inclusive society. It co-funds local, regional and national employment-related projects throughout the European Union.

By 2022 Ireland had received over €7 billion from the ESF since joining the EU in 1973.


How does it work?

Partnership agreements are formed between the European Commission and individual EU countries which set out the national authorities’ plans on how to use the European Funds allocated to them. Ireland will benefit from €1.4 billion in Cohesion Policy funding from the European Union for the 2021 to 2027 period.

Ireland’s partnership agreement is an overarching document that defines the strategy and investment priorities for the Cohesion Policy funds – including ESF+, European Regional Development Fund, the Just Transition Fund and the European Maritime Fisheries and Aquaculture policy fund (EMFAF).

ESF+ Programmes are planned by Member States, together with the European Commission, and then implemented through a wide range of provider organisations both in the public and the private sectors. These include national, regional and local authorities, educational and training organisations, voluntary organisations, Social Partners (i.e. trade unions and works councils, industry and professional organisations) and individual companies. The ESF+ Policy and Operations Unit within the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science has the responsibility for overseeing all matters relating to the ESF+ in Ireland.

For the period 2021 – 2027, ESF+ investments within Ireland will be delivered through the Employment, Inclusion, Skills and Training (EIST) Programme.



The ESF+ will contribute to reducing the risk of poverty and social exclusion, with an emphasis on disadvantaged groups. Funding will also improve the chances of people getting a job by providing training to up-skill and reskill, lifelong learning, and education measures with a focus on those who face greater challenges in accessing the labour market.

ESF+ grants are not available directly from the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science. The ESF+ supports a range of courses, schemes and projects across the country but this assistance is channelled through a number of Government Departments and Agencies, which were selected following a comprehensive consultation exercise. These Bodies include the Department of Justice, the Department of Social Protection, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, the Department of Rural and Community Development, the Department of Education, SOLAS, the Higher Education Authority, Skillnet and Sport Ireland.