Independent review should assess whether thousands of former miners have been short-changed - Greg Wright

FOR decades, Yorkshire’s miners toiled to ensure Britain’s lights kept burning.

Library image from 1985 of  miners at Betteshanger Colliery.  The Government has been accused of delivering a "slap in the face" to members of the pension scheme for mineworkers after rejecting calls by MPs to make reforms
Library image from 1985 of miners at Betteshanger Colliery. The Government has been accused of delivering a "slap in the face" to members of the pension scheme for mineworkers after rejecting calls by MPs to make reforms

Many have been denied a happy retirement because their health has been ruined from long-term exposure to coal dust. The very least they can expect from the Government is support which reflects their pivotal historic role in meeting the nation’s energy needs.

The Government has been accused of delivering a slap in the face to members of the mineworkers’ pension scheme after rejecting calls by MPs to make reforms.

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The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee had urged ministers to tackle a “historic injustice” in the scheme. MPs claimed the move would have given a £14 increase to the average weekly pension of £84.

The committee published the Government’s response, which rejected recommendations the MPs said would have made life easier for the pensioners.

The committee’s report said the Government should review the surplus sharing arrangements in the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme to ensure they are fair. The report also called on the Government to relinquish its entitlement to the Investment Reserve, and transfer the £1.2bn fund to provide an immediate cash uplift to former miners.

It examined the scheme’s controversial 50:50 split surplus sharing arrangement and claimed that “allowing the arrangement to continue would appear antithetical to the Government’s stated aim of redressing socio-economic inequality and ‘levelling up’ left-behind communities”.

Darren Jones, who chairs the committee, said members of the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme would be deeply disappointed at the “intransigent message” from the Government.

He added: “It represents a slap in the face for pension scheme members that the Government is continuing its ‘take it or leave it’ approach on arrangements around the Government guarantee.

“The Government has benefited from billions of pounds of surpluses since 1994 without having to contribute a pound of taxpayers’ money to miners’ pensions. The Government says it is willing to listen, but they reject any meaningful negotiation on the guarantee or any review of the terms of the 50:50 split.

“The tone of the Government’s response suggests they do not understand the reality of the historic injustice felt by thousands of retired miners.”

The committee said in its report that, given vast sums had been paid from the scheme to the Government, it was unconscionable that many former miners were struggling to make ends meet.

Since privatisation of the scheme in 1994, the Government has received 50% of surpluses in its value, in return for providing a guarantee that the value of pensions will not decrease, said the MPs.

At the time it was expected that the Government would receive around £4 billion from the arrangement in today’s money, but that has increased to £4.4 billion, and the Government is also due to receive at least another £1.9 billion on top of 50% off any future surpluses, according to the MPs’ report.

A Government spokesman told the Press Association: “Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme members are receiving payments 33% higher than they would have been thanks to the Government’s guarantee.

"On most occasions, the scheme has been in surplus, and scheme members have received bonuses in addition to their guaranteed pension. We remain resolutely committed to protecting the pensions of mineworkers.”

This is a significant issue in Yorkshire. The Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme has 130,047 members with one in five - 27,051 - living in and around South Yorkshire according to figures obtained by John Healey, MP for Wentworth and Dearne.

Mr Healey said: “These new figures show what a difference it would make in our area if the Government listened and gave miners and their families a decent deal.”

If the Government is serious about levelling up, it will appoint an independent reviewer to assess whether reforms are needed to ensure these pensioners are not short-changed.

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