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...
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