A Birmingham social work activist has returned his British Empire Medal in protest over “Labour’s refusal to commit to free school meals and the Tories removal of children’s murals” at an asylum centre. 

Eddie O’Hara was awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours in 2021 for his charity work and for working in children’s services for more than 30 years.

O’Hara, from Hall Green, co-founded a charity called All Birmingham’s Children (ABC) after witnessing appalling levels of child poverty, homelessness, inequality, hunger and the increase of food banks in Britain’s second city.

ABC is a group of local parents, children and professionals who care and work with children. The charity liaises with civic and community leaders with the aim of making Birmingham a more child-friendly city by ensuring children have access to basic things such as food, shelter, warmth and safety.

Two recent politically-related incidents resulted in O’Hara handing back his British Medal of Honour.

Eddie O'Hara was awarded the British Empire Medal for his charity work and working in children's services for 30 yearsEddie O'Hara
Eddie O’Hara was awarded the British Empire Medal for his charity work and working in children’s services for 30 years

The first was “Labour’s shameful refusal” to commit to free school meals for all children if they got into power, and the second incident was the instruction by “Tories to paint over” children’s murals at an immigration centre which O’Hara described as an “obscene” act.

O’Hara voiced his anger at the failure of politicians to honour their promises: “When everyday politicians try to outdo each other by their dishonesty in presenting examples of just how exclusive, unkind, uncaring, removed and indifferent they have become…..you get to a point, where… ‘enough is enough’.”

The issue of free school meals for children is close to O’Hara’s heart: “Last month, we witnessed Labour’s Shadow Children’s Minister, (Helen Hayes, etc), cowardly and misguided refusal to commit Labour (if they win the next election) to providing free school meals to all children, because the optics did not make it ‘targeted enough’.”

Eddie O'Hara has worked in children's services for over 30 yearsEddie O'Hara
Eddie O’Hara has worked in children’s services for over 30 years

The plight of refugees and how they are treated and viewed by politicians is another issue that is close to O’Hara’s heart. The intolerance and prejudice experienced by refugees leaves the veteran social activist troubled and a recent event at a refugee reception centre in Kent compelled O’Hara to speak out.

The centre had been brightened up and painted with Disney characters such as Baloo the bear from The Jungle Book and Mickey Mouse. The idea was to make vulnerable refugee children – who are dealing with pain and trauma – more welcome at the centre.

O’Hara was shocked and disturbed when he found out that the murals had been removed: “This month we have the Conservative Immigration Minister (Robert Jenrick, etc) obscenely order that children’s murals on the walls of a children’s immigration centre were painted over because ‘they were too welcoming’.”

Mr Jenrick reportedly ordered the removal of murals at the asylum centre because they were 'too welcoming" Stuart Graham
Mr Jenrick reportedly ordered the removal of children’s murals at an asylum centre because the art was “too welcoming”

O’Hara explained why he decided to return his British Empire Medal: “We live in the 6th richest country on the planet, we have more billionaires than most countries, yet we have one of the highest income disparities on the planet and between 40 – 54 % of children in my city alone live in poverty. This is not inevitable it is the result of indifferent choices made by entitled politicians every day.

“As a lifelong campaigner for a kinder more decent society for all, I am appalled at the constant disregard and indifference 99% of our politicians show towards our children, at a time when across the UK millions of children and their parents continue to live in poverty and go to be hungry each night……surely it is high time for the King in all his riches to speak out and promote the importance of ‘his’ government creating a kinder and more inclusive society which promotes the interest of all children…….until he does, he can keep my British Empire Medal.”

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