‘They have robbed us of our pensions’
THE UK Government has skimmed more than £10bn from miners’ pensions while workers get as little as £10 a week from the pot, it is claimed.
Furious former colliers say they want back the cash they believe has been stolen from them.
Ken Sullivan, who spent 24 years underground at Oakdale Colliery, has started a petition in an attempt to get his case argued in Parliament. So far he has 30,000 signatures.
“They were supposed to take 50/50 up to a maximum of £2bn but they never stopped at £2bn,” the 64-year-old said.
“When Labour came in, they promised to look at it, but didn’t. At the moment they have taken somewhere in the region of £10bn.
“We want a review to stop them taking the money out. We are not asking for a handout, we are asking for the pension we have paid for.”
The situation dates back to 1994 when British Coal was privatised. Ministers agreed the Government would act as guarantor for two pension schemes.
Under the deal, any surplus would be split 50/50 between the Treasury and scheme members.
The Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme had 200,000 members and the British Coal Staff Superannuation Scheme 57,000.
In 1996 it was estimated the funds would generate a £2bn surplus over the next 25 years.
But they have done better than expected and the Treasury has a total of £10bn to spend.
“They have robbed us of our pension,” Mr Sullivan said. “We are only getting half the pension we should have in real terms. It would make a huge difference to me. I would be able to do a lot with my grandchildren that I’ve not been able to.”
Harry Parfitt was a miner for 40 years.
“They have been taking a million pounds a day of our money since 1994 – it’s terrible,” the former Penrhiwceiber Colliery man said.
“Since 1994 they have taken £10bn of our money.”
While working, miners contributed 5.25% of their pay towards pensions.
The huge sum has arisen from surpluses, money held as an investment reserve and a £1.1bn, sevenyear contributions holiday dating back to British Coal’s involvement.
Ashfield Labour MP Gloria De Piero met Business Secretary Greg Clark to find a solution last year. She got nowhere.
“Miners and mine workers’ widows are sometimes on just £10 a week,” Mr Parfitt said.
“What we want is a review to alter the 50/50 agreement.”
Idwal Morgan is secretary of the NUM Cokemens’ area.
“It’s robbery, that is what I think,” said Mr Morgan, of Mountain Ash.
“We said at the time it was scandalous they were taking 50% of the profit. It would be lovely if they could get the Government to reimburse it.”
However, he had little faith they would stump up the cash.
“Until the Tories are removed there is no chance of doing it – but by all means try,” he said. “I would tell Theresa May the members of the Conservative cabinet, at the time this was done... should be in prison because this is nothing less than robbery.”
He accused the Tories of failing to look after “the ordinary people”.
“The amount of money they have taken out is scandalous,” he said. “The miners’ pension scheme was designed so that the last pound left in the scheme went to the last member left on his deathbed. It was not there for profit but for the individuals who contributed.”
Mr Morgan urged the Government to “give it back to the miners”.
“It would benefit the retired miners and their widows and the children dependent on them,” he said.
Steffan Lewis AM called for an independent review into the matter.
“When the deal was struck for a 50/50 split, the taxpayer was taking on a liability but the scheme has performed far better than anyone envisaged,” he said.
The scheme has “rarely been in deficit”.
“The taxpayer has benefited from billions of pounds,” said Mr Lewis.
“I think an independent review would come to the conclusion that a 50/50 split is not a fair reflection of the liability being borne by the taxpayer.
“There is a case for a fair split, but no-one can suggest a 50/50 split with half being taken out of the fund is a fair reflection of the risk.
“This is not a goldplated scheme. There are miners on £40 a week. The number of members is diminishing every year as well. For people who have worked underground, in their autumn and winter years to have a decent pension is appropriate.”
A Government spokesman said: “The Government guarantee of the Mineworkers’ Pensions Scheme guarantees that a member’s pension, including inflation increases, will always be paid.
“This means that a member’s total pension, including bonus pension, will not fall in cash terms.
“Members have received pensions approximately 33% larger than would have been the case without the guarantee.”
Former miner Ken Sullivan, from Tredegar, is gathering signatures for a petition and has received support from 30,000 people so far