This is a newly announced Government initiative offering grants of up to £300,000 (from a pot of £1.5m) to organisations offering support for projects helping people return to work after caring.

The main headline on this fund is to resolve the gender pay gap, but the reality is that 89% of people who are economically inactive because they are caring for family or the home are women.

The Returners Fund is being run by the Government Equalities Office (GEO), offering grants to projects which help people to return to work in the private sector. Such projects could help returners update their skills, provide other training, or support businesses to increase employment opportunities for returners. The fund will prioritise projects that focus on small and medium enterprises (SMEs), employers outside of London, and projects that support returners at all skill levels.

The Government Equalities Office defines a ‘returner’ as a person who left paid employment for at least a year to take on a caring responsibility and would like to return to paid work at a level commensurate with their skills and experience.

Returners may also be people who have who left paid employment for at least a year, but who have since returned to paid work at a lower skill level. The caring responsibility may be for children, elderly or sick relatives.

The priorities of the Fund are:

  • create new job opportunities within the private sector and targeted employment sectors, including retail; law; tech and telecoms; science, technology, engineering and maths industries; creative industries;
  • could not otherwise be established by the market;
  • address specific barriers for returners and can be replicated at scale;
  • can demonstrate self-sustainability beyond the initial funding period of the grant;
  • increase understanding of how best to support a) returners to gain paid employment and b) employers to recruit and support returners.

All types of organisations in England that can demonstrate they can support returners are eligible to apply to the fund. This includes voluntary and community sector organisations, local training providers, local enterprise partnerships (LEPs), academic institutions, local authorities and private sector organisations. It is anticipated that most of the grant recipients under the Returners Fund will be voluntary and community sector organisations, social enterprises and training providers.

The upper limit for grants is £300,000. However, it is expected that the majority of awards to be between £50,000 and £150,000. The GEO expects to fund up to 18 projects in total.

Funding can only be used for the start-up costs of new projects, training, and related support for returners.

The GEO welcomes projects with match funding in place, or a clear plan to achieve that funding.

There will be two funding rounds, one in the spring and one in the autumn 2018.

Expressions of Interest for the first round of bidding must be submitted by Friday 30 March 2018 and – for the second round – by Thursday 16 August 2018.

For full details of the programme, including exceptions, priorities and application details, visit the Returners Fund homepage.