This report from the Department for Work and Pensions covers the European Social Fund (ESF) Evaluation of Gender Equality and Equal Opportunities. The ESF Gender Equality and Equal Opportunities Mainstreaming Plan for England and Gibraltar 2007– 2013 outlined the vision for mainstreaming Gender Equality (GE) and Equal Opportunities (EO) across all levels of the ESF programme. The National Centre for Social Research was commissioned to evaluate the mainstreaming of GE and EO within ESF, in light of the Mainstreaming Plan.
The report assesses progress towards implementing the GE and EO Mainstreaming Plan at different levels of ESF operation. It examines GE and EO policies and processes at different levels of ESF, and identifies and makes recommendations on good practice to encourage GE and EO among ESF providers. These considerations are made within the context of understanding barriers to accessibility experienced by different groups.
Key findings from the research were:
- GE and EO legislation and EO policies are perceived by Contract Managers and provider staff to be valuable tools in the promotion of equalities and placing equalities high on the agenda of publicly funded bodies.
- There was variation in the extent to which promotion of GE and EO at all levels within ESF operated in practice.
- Procurement and monitoring processes are viewed as highly developed and successful processes of mainstreaming are in operation.
- Contract Managers perceive their roles and responsibilities regarding GE and EO differently between different ESF Co-Financing Organisations (CFOs) and different individuals.
- Provider staff and participants consider the proactive and sustained promotion of GE and EO as integral to ESF service provision and delivery. There were concerns from niche providers however that the flexibility inherent in the dual approach may be being threatened by an increase in prime contracting.
- Key ways in which ESF funded providers worked to promote access and diversity included active outreach to participant groups, building links with community/voluntary sector organisations within local networks, flexibility in terms of response to individual participant needs, active employer engagement, challenging negative employer perceptions of different participant groups, and providing guidance and support around necessary adjustments.
- Equality targets are being achieved in relation to disability in Priority 1 and 4, and gender and ethnic minority targets are being achieved in Priority 5. Targets are close to being met for engaging those aged over 50 in Priority 1 and 2. However rates for engaging women are low in Priority 1 in comparison to the targets set (35% against a target of 51%).
- Provider staff reported that the gender target may be unrealistic; this was especially true given the current economic situation, with traditional male industries being particularly affected and providers reporting an upturn in men accessing their support.
- Progress implementing the Mainstreaming Plan is well advanced. The promotion of GE and EO is embedded in the structure of the organisations involved in ESF. The procurement process and ways of working providers adopt supported the dual approach successfully.
The authors are: Carol McNaughton Nicholls, Martin Mitchell, Ashley Brown, Nilufer Rahim, Emma Drever and Cheryl Lloyd of the National Centre for Social Research.
The report (PDF 220pp) is at http://tinyurl.com/34js5cb