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European Social Fund Plus

ESF+ funding to support work-life balance for parents and carers

woman working at computer while holding baby
(c) 2022 shutterstock

The European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) is the main funding instrument to support the Member States for implementing the new EU-wide rules to improve work-life balance for parents and carers, which apply as of 2 August 2022 with the entry into force of the EU Work-Life Balance Directive.

These rules set out minimum standards for paternity, parental and carers' leave and establish additional rights – such as the right to request flexible working arrangements – which will help people develop their careers and family life without having to sacrifice either. These rights, were achieved under the European Pillar of Social Rights Principle 9 and represent a key milestone towards building a Union of Equality.

Boosting women’s employability and work-life balance

The Directive on work-life balance aims to both increase the participation of women in the labour market and the take-up of family-related leave and flexible working arrangements. Overall, women's employment rate in the EU is 10.8 percentage points lower than men's.. Moreover, only 68% of women with care responsibilities work compared to 81% of men with the same duties. Implementation of the new rules will ensure both parents have leave to care for relatives who need support, allowing them as well as carers to focus on both their professional and private lives. The new regime will allow mandatory paternity and parental leave, carer’s leave and flexible working arrangements for parents of young children. 

Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, said: “The EU Work-Life Balance Directive encourages men and women to share parenting and caring responsibilities better. Men and women alike deserve an equal chance to take parental leave and carers' leave, as well as equal opportunities to be part of and thrive in the labour market. This directive gives people the tools to divide their household and care duties fairly.”

ESF+ investments

The ESF+ mainstreams gender equality across all funded activities and sets a specific objective for designing programmes and projects dedicated to promoting equality within the labour market, equal working conditions and a better work-life balance – including through access to affordable childcare and care for dependent persons. This can encourage national authorities and stakeholders involved in implementing the fund to undertake more and innovative initiatives that can improve work-life balance for families and carers.

This builds up on the achievements of projects already funded by the European Social Fund and programmes continuing until 2023. So far the ESF has invested nearly over €1.4 billion from the EU budget, dedicated to the priority of promoting equality at work – including access to employment and career progression, work-life balance and equal remuneration. This is in addition to the nearly €4.4 billion invested from the EU budget for specific initiatives to advance gender equality.