Government 'robbing retired miners all the way to the grave', in pensions row, campaigners say
The government has been accused of "robbing retired miners all the way to the grave", in a row over pensions.
Campaigners say the Treasury should hand over the billions its made from a controversial deal to retired pit workers who desperately need it.
The government privatised the miners' pension in 1994 and agreed to guarantee its value, on condition it could take half of any extra surplus that was generated.
As it turned out, £4.4bn has flowed into the Treasury coffers from the scheme since, but the government rejected calls from a cross-party group of MPs in July to put some of that cash back into miners' pension pots.
Councillors from across the political divide in Wakefield joined calls for the money to be released at a meeting on Wednesday.
Beforehand, campaigners joined Labour members on the steps of the Town Hall to promote their cause.
Former miner 64 year-old Ian Hoggan, who worked at Lofthouse Colliery between 1973 and 1981 said: "There are some miners living in this country on less than £10 a week.
"The government is robbing them all the way to the grave, for reason other than vindictiveness from the strike.
"Since then, they’e twisted the pension scheme. It’s been proved now we don’t need a guarantor.
"The taxpayer hasn’t put a penny in and the government are profiteering from it on a big scale."
The average weekly pension for miners is £84 a week. Releasing the cash would top that up by around £14 a week, campaigners say.
Chris Kitchen, the General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, said: "To multi-millionaires it’s nothing.
"But when you’re on a pension of £84 a week, when you’re living in a deprived area and your family’s struggling to get decent jobs, that £14 will make a big difference."
In the council chamber, Labour member Pauline Kitching told how her father used to come home late at night from shifts at the pit, with bruises on his shoulders from falling lumps of coal.
Coun Kitching, who represents Hemsworth, said: "I will always remember what the Tory government did to mining communities.
"Taking this money isn't just wrong, it's immoral."
Fellow Labour councillor Matthew Morley said the government had used the pension fund as a "cash cow".
The Conservatives supported Labour's motion calling on the government to think again, though group leader Nic Stansby said she took issue with Labour members calling it a "daylight robbery".
Coun Stansby said: "The initial agreement is 27 years old and it was a fair agreement at the time.
"But over the years, it's no longer a fair agreement.
"I agree 100 per cent it should be revisited and the miners should get the extra £14 a week they're entitled to."
Addressing Labour councillor Steve Tulley, who'd also spoken during the debate, Coun Stansby added: "I know £84 a week doesn't seem a lot, but thanks to Gordon Brown my pension will be £10 a week.
"So I hope you'll be as passionate in defending my pension as you are about the miners' pension."
Local Democracy Reporting Service