GOVERNMENT ministers who have ‘continually failed’ cash-strapped former miners in the town have been urged to put things right - after the Chancellor was accused of ignoring ongoing calls to unlock a £1bn pension pot.
Speaking in Parliament, Barnsley East MP Stephanie Peacock condemned Rishi Sunak for staying silent on the issue of ex-mineworkers’ pensions in his spending review last week.
Prior to the speech, she joined 30 MPs from across the UK in a joint statement to call on the Chancellor to use the budget as an opportunity to bring justice on the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme (MPS).
After he declined to do so, Ms Peacock stood up for miners in Parliament, denouncing the government for ‘betraying’ former coalfield workers.
She said: “Unless they are in the business of profit, there should be no incentive for the government to continue taking 50 per cent of miners’ hard-earned pensions.
“However, instead of doing the right thing for our miners and coalfield communities at the budget, the government have once again chosen to stay silent.
“The Labour Party would review this agreement immediately, giving our miners the economic and moral justice they deserve.”
It comes after ministers rejected proposals to supply an immediate £1.2bn cash boost to thousands of ex-miners involved in the scheme - saying they believe arrangements are ‘fair and beneficial’.
The 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.
The BEIS Select Committee report said the government ‘failed to conduct due diligence’ in undertaking the 50-50 split, and not accurately forecasting how much it could receive.
It also proposed the government only be entitled to shares of surpluses if it has to pay to counter a deficit, and only to make its money back, given the ‘relatively low degree of risk’ attached.
Stephanie added: “The miners’ pensions scandal has gone on far too long with the government taking billions from the fund while the average ex-miner receives just £84 a week.
“There can be no more delays - the government must act to right this historic wrong.
“This isn’t just about the money, it’s about our values and it’s about doing right by people who have worked incredibly hard in dangerous conditions.”
Chris Kitchen, general secretary of the National Union of Miners (NUM), said: “We’ve always believed that former mineworkers should be entitled to a greater return than the ‘option of a guarantee with a 50-50 split’ of surplus funds imposed back in 1994.
“For the sake of our members and their families, we will continue to fight for a fair deal as it is only right.
“The NUM was not involved in establishing the terms of the original agreement and has argued consistently for changes that would achieve a fairer outcome for retired mineworkers and their families.
‘We will continue to lobby the government and campaign for a more balanced approach to the distribution of surplus funds.”