The cross-party Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee report heavily criticises the government’s claiming of at least £4bn from a pension pot for former miners, many of whom also suffer long-term illness and disabilities after years down the mines.
It confirms that current arrangements, in place after an ‘arbitrary’ agreement between the government and pension trustees in 1994, disproportionately benefit the government at the expense of members.
Some, according to the inquiry held on March 23, survive on as little as £18 a week.
Barnsley East MP Stephanie Peacock, who led the campaign for an inquiry, welcomed the report’s recommendations - which will see an immediate financial boost for ex-miners if accepted.
“These changes are long overdue and ones that we have campaigned for over a number of years,” she told the Chronicle.
“Governments should not be in the business of profiting from mineworkers’ pensions.
“The government must now implement the report’s recommendations in full.
“Former miners and their families here in Barnsley and across the country deserve a fairer deal.
“That must be delivered, without delay.”
The Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme (MPS) was established as the larger of two schemes for pit workers in 1952.
In 1994, upon the privatisation of British Coal’s operations, contributions were closed and the government stepped in as guarantor - in return getting 50 per cent of surpluses, used to improve members’ benefits or offer contribution holidays to employers.
Since then, the scheme’s strong performance has seen the government pocket £4.4bn - double its initial projections - and anticipate at least a further £1.9bn, despite not contributing financially.
The report confirms the government ‘failed to conduct due diligence’ in undertaking the 50-50 split, and not accurately forecasting how much it could receive.
“Whether or not the government knew in 1994 that it would disproportionately benefit from the arrangement, and whether all parties thought it was fair at the time, is irrelevant,” said the report.
“It is patently clear today that the arrangements have unduly benefited the government, and it is untenable for the government to continue to argue that the arrangements remain fair.”
It recommends that the £1.2bn Investment Reserve - a fund left by British Coal, to be called on in the event of a deficit - be given immediately to ex-miners, equating to a £14-a-week uplift.
A further £0.7bn in the Guarantor’s Fund could see the increase become £22 per week.
The current average pension for former miners in the scheme is £84 a week.
Many pension schemes found themselves in surplus in the 1980s and 1990s, including the MPS.
The government’s guarantee to ensure payments are made even if the scheme falls into deficit, adds the committee, is not ‘proportionate to the relatively low degree of risk’ attached to the MPS, which has continued to yield strong returns in spite of economic uncertainty.
The committee proposes that the government only become entitled to a share of surpluses if it has to pay to counter a deficit, and only to make its money back.
“The government must now accept its moral obligation to the scheme members, and acknowledge that continuation of the surplus sharing arrangements in their current form robs beneficiaries of the financial security they have rightfully earned,” added the report.
“Our recommendations set out equitable arrangements which would go some way to redressing the sense of historic injustice felt by the scheme’s members.”
Wentworth and Dearne MP John Healey, one of 50 MPs to sign Stephanie’s letter to the committee, said: “The government simply cannot justify getting billions from a scheme they’ve never put anything in that was built on the backs of miners.
“I’ve been fighting on this for years but all I get from ministers is that they won’t even consider a review. It’s shameful.
“Thousands of ex-miners are dying every year, and those still with us are suffering with poor health and struggling to get by every day.
“They need help now and an immediate increase to their pensions.”