MPs and Peers say Government must step up to fill EU funding gap to fight online child abuse and exploitation

19 Nov 2020 Andy Robinson

“There is a more sinister side to the internet and the dangers to children have increased.”

MPs, Peers, and former ministers have called on the Government to step in to make sure children are not left vulnerable to online exploitation and abuse after EU funding for online charities is withdrawn.

In an open letter published today (November 19) a cross-party group of 33 MPs and Peers urged the Chancellor Rishi Sunak to replace £1.3 million of funding for the UK Safer Internet Centre (UK SIC), which is currently provided by the EU.

The UK SIC is a unique partnership of three world-leading charities (SWGfL, Childnet, and the Internet Watch Foundation) working together to deliver critical advice, resources, and interventions to help keep everyone, especially children and young people, safe online.

The funding currently provided by the EU amounts to 50 per cent of the Centre’s funding.

Without it, children could be left vulnerable to online abuse, sexual exploitation, and bullying – all things the UK SIC works hard to prevent and remove from the internet.

The letter is led by Jeremy Wright QC MP, the former Secretary of State at DCMS.

Signatories include current DCMS and Home Affairs Select Committee Chairs Julian Knight and Yvette Cooper, as well as former Children’s Ministers Tim Loughton and Kevin Brennan.

The letter is also signed by Tory former minister Damian Green, and Labour former minister Sir Alan Campbell.

The letter reads: “During the Covid-19 pandemic, we have seen the wonderfully positive benefits the internet has to offer, including the ability to work from home and stay entertained.

“However, as the Centre has consistently highlighted, there is a more sinister side to the internet and the dangers to children have increased.”

In the letter, the MPs say continuing the funding is “vitally important” in making sure citizens are protected from harm.

It continues: “We believe that it is not only the right thing to do in terms of the protection of children, it is vitally important in achieving the Government’s ambitions of becoming a world leader in online safety and we ask that Government plays its part in funding those activities.

“The first function of Government is the protection of its citizens from harm. What could be more important than ensuring the safety and security of children and their right to a childhood free from abuse and exploitation?”

Jeremy Wright QC MP said: “I have visited the Internet Watch Foundation when I was Secretary of State for DCMS and I have seen the amazing work that they do first-hand in removing large volumes of child sexual abuse material.

“I know the vitally important role they and their partners in the UK Safer Internet Centre play in making the UK the safest place in the world to go online and I am convinced that if the UK is to maintain its place as a global leader in tackling online harms that we must invest in initiatives like the UK Safer Internet Centre.”

UK SIC Director David Wright said losing the funding would make the internet a more dangerous place for everyone, particularly children.

He said: “With the UK still facing disruption due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis, we see more and more people turning to the internet to help them get on with their day to day lives.

“Sadly, this has meant people who were previously vulnerable to being exploited and abused online, including children and young people, are even more at the mercy of abusers and criminals.

“The UK SIC fights against these online abuses, and not replacing this funding once it is withdrawn will only make the UK a more dangerous place to be online.”

Earlier this month, an open letter signed by leaders from more than 25 organisations across the education, technology and child protection sectors, urged Chancellor Rishi Sunak to replace £1.3 million of funding for the UK Safer Internet Centre currently provided by the EU.

Among the signatories were Peter Wanless, CEO of the NSPCC, Nancy Kelly, CEO of Stonewall, and Tessy Ojo of the Diana Award.

The letter was also signed by Chief Constable Simon Bailey QPM, the National Policing Lead for Child Protection, as well as Julian David, the CEO of techUK.

There were also signatures from Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, and the General Secretaries of the NASUWT and the NAHT.

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