FORMER miners in Barnsley have backed Labour’s commitment to alter a ‘grossly unjust’ pension scheme in their favour.

As a result of British Coal’s privatisation in 1994, an agreement was reached between miners and the government which would provide a financial guarantee to protect pensions earned up to privatisation in return for a 50 per cent share of any surpluses.

Labour’s manifesto vows to change the current 50-50 split of the miners’ pension scheme pot to 90-10.

Chris Kitchen, secretary of the Barnsley-based National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), told the Chronicle: “It’s something we absolutely support as it’s what we’ve been campaigning for.

“A 50 per cent share from a pension scheme that the government has made no direct contribution to is not, in our judgement, a fair share and we believe that the Tories have received a significant financial windfall while assuming relatively low risks.

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“Nearly 6,500 miners died last year alone and there are just 152,000 members of the pension scheme left, although many are suffering the effects of decades working underground.”

Stephanie Peacock, the election candidate for Barnsley East, has written to the government asking for an ‘early Christmas present’ for retired miners.

Ms Peacock has asked for more than £2bn - currently lying dormant in the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme - to be released.

“After spending their lives undertaking backbreaking work to keep our lights on, retired miners deserve better than a government willing to pocket billions from their pension scheme without paying in a single penny of their own,” she added.

“With the average scheme pensioner taking home just £84 a week, freeing up dormant funds currently lying in the pension scheme would provide a huge windfall to miners and their families.”

Dan Jarvis, current Mayor of Sheffield City Region and campaigning for re-election in Barnsley Central, said the government has not provided a penny of financial support.

“Barnsley is a town built on coal - the pits are an inextricable part of our history and it is the coal miner and the glassblower who stood together on our town’s coat of arms,” he added.

“The winding wheels that remain in place are a poignant reminder of our industrial heritage. Also testament to that heritage are the generations of men who spent their entire working lives underground, many of them paying the price of serious illness, ruined lungs and even their lives.

“It was the hard graft of Barnsley miners that powered our communities and industries but in the quarter of a century since the last pit closed, miners and their families have received a raw deal from successive governments.

“If you spent your entire working life in a mine, breathing in coal dust on a daily basis, you are bound to be more likely to suffer from lung disease in retirement. Sadly the Department of Work and Pensions do not recognise this reality, and former miners are going without ill health benefits that they rightly deserve and are entitled to.

“Likewise, for those miners who were fortunate enough to avoid serious illness, there is still the problem of the deeply flawed and unfair Mineworkers’ Pensions Scheme and the issue of surplus sharing.

“Under the current rules of the scheme, the government are receiving half of all pension surpluses that should be paid to the retired miners.

“The theory is that because the government provide a financial guarantee for the scheme they deserve an equal share of the profits.

“No-one is suggesting that the government receive nothing, but a reform that gives 90 per cent of surpluses back to miners and ten per cent to the government would be fairer, and would benefit former miners and their families now.”