Betrayal of miners’ pension scheme must end – Stephanie Peacock

THE Government has rejected the cross party proposals on the mineworkers pension scheme that 
would have addressed the historic injustice of them profiting from miners’ pensions by taking billions of pounds of their money.

An archive photo of Barnsley Main Colliery as controversy continues over the management of the mineworkers pension scheme.

If Boris Johnson thinks this fight is over, he is profoundly wrong. My constituency of Barnsley East played a key role in powering our nation for much of the 20th century.

A great number of my constituents worked in the most dangerous of conditions in Britain’s collieries. Many people were killed in pit disasters and thousands have been left with serious health issues and disabilities from the work that they did to keep our lights on.

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But they were not valued as the key workers of their day.  They were treated by the Government as ‘‘the enemy within’’. Millions of livelihoods were destroyed, not as part of a just transition, but for a political project which ravaged working class communities.

File photo dated 18/12/15 of miners coming off the last shift at Kellingley Colliery in Knottingley, North Yorkshire on the final day of production. Miners at the colliery, the UK's last remaining deep coal mine, worked their final shifts, ending underground production in the UK.

This community has seen some of the worst government cuts in the country. And now – with the vast majority of the remaining 152,000 pension scheme members retired – the Government continues to engage in a historic injustice.

The average pension for former mineworkers is just £84. The majority receive even less than that. Yet the Government has extracted £4.4bn from their pension scheme.

That isn’t the Government’s money.  It’s the result of miners’ pension contributions from their years of hard work to keep our country moving. Yet the Government continues to control and profit from their scheme. And they will soon be taking almost £2bn more.

This pension raid injustice is the result of an arrangement created by the Conservatives when privatising the pension scheme in 1994, in which they ‘‘failed to conduct due diligence… and was negligent by not taking actuarial advice’’.

Stephanie Peacock is Labour MP for Barnsley East.

The Treasury takes 50 per cent of the miners’ pension funds surplus value and can extract funds from the investment reserve, in exchange for underwriting the pensions if the scheme went into deficit.

However, the scheme has instead performed very well. Government has now taken billions away from the miners’ scheme, without contributing a single penny themselves, due to a payment holiday which began in 1987.

Many of the towns and villages that the Conservatives destroyed in the 1980s have still not recovered. It is these post-industrial towns that most need ‘‘levelling-up’’ to mean something and it certainly cannot mean taking money from ex-miners’ pensions – leaving working class pensioners with only £84 a week, just to boost the Treasury’s coffers. 

Yet this is exactly what they have decided to do. That’s not levelling-up. That’s not tackling inequality. That’s not addressing injustice.

During the last general election campaign in November 2019, the Prime Minister made a “categorical pledge” to ex-miners that “all their cash is fully protected and returned, I have looked into it and we will ensure that’s done”.

The inquiry report offered a perfectly fair conclusion to deliver that while protecting the public purse – and maintaining the guarantee. It would have ended future profiting from the scheme while agreeing that the £1.2bn reserve fund should be given back to pensioners immediately, providing an immediate £14 a week average pension uplift.

The Prime Minister has committed a great betrayal and it is simply a disgrace that this Government has broken the promise that they were elected on.

I have been campaigning for justice for retired miners for a number of years now. I’ve been working with ex-miners, the National Union of Mineworkers and colleagues in Parliament.

I have looked former miners in the eye as they have told me that they fear they will die before the Treasury returns their pension money.

Almost 300,000 miners have died since the Conservatives made this arrangement. Some of their widows have been left with as little as £8.50.

This cannot be kicked into the long grass any more. These families deserve justice today and the next Labour government will do the right thing and give retired miners justice. 

We will immediately return the £1.2bn investment reserve to retired miners and their families. And we will change the sharing arrangements to put more in the pockets of pensioners in the future.

Throughout the last year, we have shown what we are capable of as a society in caring for one another.  We must not lose sight of that as we rebuild.

We cannot go back to how things were. We need a fairer country. We need to continue to care for one another. If the Government is serious about that, it must deliver for communities like Barnsley and deliver justice for former miners. If it won’t, Labour will.

Stephanie Peacock is Labour MP for Barnsley East.

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