Ex-min­ers tell of hard­ship as they fight for pen­sions

For­mer min­ers say the UK gov­ern­ment has ‘bro­ken prom­ises’ and taken bil­lions from the pen­sion pots of for­mer col­liers. Anna Lewis spoke to some try­ing to live on as lit­tle as £50 a week...

Cynon Valley - - NEWS -

THEIR num­ber in­cludes men who have been forced to give up their homes, and fam­i­lies who must metic­u­lously count their pen­nies to make ends meet.

This is the sit­u­a­tion thou­sands of for­mer min­ers found them­selves in, when af­ter years of back-break­ing work, they were fi­nally able to re­tire.

In re­cent years the terms of the Minework­ers’ Pen­sion Scheme have come un­der grow­ing crit­i­cism by those who were work­ing un­der­ground when it was de­cided in 1994.

Since then the gov­ern­ment has taken more than £4.4bn in sur­pluses out of the same pot – and will take £427m more over the next three years.

Now, three for­mer col­liers have spo­ken of the re­al­ity of liv­ing on as lit­tle as £50 per week, as they bring their cam­paign for change into 2019.

Un­known to many, the sit­u­a­tion with the Minework­ers’ Pen­sion Scheme be­gan 24 years ago when British Coal was pri­va­tised.

At the time, min­is­ters agreed the gov­ern­ment would act as guar­an­tor for two pen­sion schemes – The Minework­ers’ Pen­sion Scheme, boast­ing 200,000 mem­bers, and the British Coal Staff Su­per­an­nu­a­tion Scheme, with 57,000 mem­bers.

Un­der the deal any sur­plus money gained from the scheme would be split 50/50 be­tween the Trea­sury and scheme mem­bers.

But while it was es­ti­mated the funds would gen­er­ate a £2bn sur­plus over 25 years, it has done bet­ter than ex­pected.

In No­vem­ber, En­ergy Min­is­ter Claire Perry re­vealed £617m had been taken by the Trea­sury in 2018 alone.

In to­tal, the Mineworker Pen­sion Fight claims the amount taken by the gov­ern­ment has reached £10bn in just over 20 years – while for­mer work­ers re­ceive an av­er­age pen­sion of £84 a week.

At 73 Em­lyn Davies lives with his daugh­ter and her hus­band. He is one of the sur­viv­ing 150,000 for­mer min­ers who paid 5.25% into the scheme while work­ing.

While the de­ci­sion was made af­ter his wife Gwyn­neth’s death in 2013, the pen­sioner claims he would not be able to af­ford to live on his own.

This is be­cause af­ter 26 years work­ing in Pen­rhi­w­ceiber Col­liery he now re­ceives £59 a week to get by.

“I re­ceive £59 a week. Imag­ine pay­ing £8 or £9 a week in and you only have £59 back af­ter 26 years?” Em­lyn, known to fam­ily and friends as Em, said.

“When I was a young man – I started in the 50s – we thought we would have a good pen­sion. Then they al­tered it and I thought it would be even bet­ter, but it ended up not be­ing the case. We are still poor.”

At 60, for­mer Oak­dale Col­liery worker Ken Sul­li­van took the de­ci­sion to re­tire af­ter un­der­go­ing triple by­pass surgery.

His ca­reer in the col­liery also started at age 15, when he be­gan to sup­port his fa­ther, who was a pris­oner of war dur­ing World War Two.

Now he re­ceives £78 a week from the scheme, along with his state pen­sion.

Ken, who has lived in the same house in Tre­de­gar since he was born, said: “Peo­ple think it is a good amount but when you con­tem­plate what you have paid in it’s not that much. My wife bud­gets every­thing down to the last penny. There’s only cer­tain things we can buy and cer­tain things we can’t but you get used to it. We don’t go out – my wife last went out three years ago.”

Two years ago the fa­ther and grand­fa­ther be­gan a pe­ti­tion call­ing for the scheme to be re­viewed. It now has more than 60,000 sig­na­tures.

As part of his cam­paign­ing, Ken has vis­ited ev­ery vil­lage and town in south Wales, drum­ming up sup­port – and has met those in sit­u­a­tions far worse than his own.

He said: “In Aber­tillery there was an old lady and she was told she would get £7.50 a week as a widow. Her hus­band would have got £15 a week. She was gut­ted. A lot of peo­ple don’t re­alise what has taken place.

“What we are ask­ing for is the pen­sion we have paid into. We are not ask­ing for char­ity, we are not ask­ing for hand-outs, that’s all we want.”

Be­tween 1963 and 1989, Gareth Davies also worked at Oak­dale Col­liery.

Now liv­ing in Aber­dare, the 70-year-old is thank­ful his sit­u­a­tion is bet­ter than most thanks to his £690-a-month pen­sion – ar­ranged due to his po­si­tion as col­lier of­fi­cial.

Gareth, who now lives in Aber­dare, said: “I re­ceive £690 a month but there are many more that are on a lot less. I have heard many, many sad sto­ries, there are peo­ple that haven’t got a penny.

“I have spo­ken to peo­ple that have teared-up speak­ing about it.

“I’ve re­cently sep­a­rated from my wife so I’m liv­ing on my own and I’ve got debts to pay off so it’s not easy.”

He added: “The gov­ern­ment took over our pen­sion scheme un­der du­bi­ous cir­cum­stances. The ones worst off are those that left school at 15 and ex­pected to re­tire at 60. Their funds have been used by the gov­ern­ment to pay out the banks.”

A Gov­ern­ment spokesman said: “The Minework­ers’ Pen­sions Scheme is sub­ject to a Gov­ern­ment Guar­an­tee which en­sures that a mem­ber’s pen­sion, in­clud­ing in­fla­tion in­creases, will al­ways be paid.

“Mem­bers have re­ceived pen­sions ap­prox­i­mately 33% larger than would have been the case with­out the guar­an­tee.”

A miner walks past heavy lift­ing gear

Ken Sul­li­van

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