Lothian ex-miners in battle for fair deal as Government takes billions from pension fund

'Robbery' claim over treatment of retired pitmen

Tuesday, 26th November 2019, 6:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 26th November 2019, 8:28 am
John Russell gets a pension of 67 a week after 23 years underground

EX-MINERS fighting for a fair deal in retirement have accused the UK Government of “robbery” for taking billions of pounds out of their pension scheme.

A former Lothian Labour councillor who worked at Monktonhall colliery told how he is left with a payment of £67 a week for his 23 years underground while the Government has so far taken £4.3 billion out of the fund.

John Russell said: “There is real anger. Miners spent their whole working life down a pit, paid into the scheme and you expect fair play. In 1994, when the coal industry was privatised, they didn’t want to take on the pension scheme; the Government said they would guarantee the scheme, but they had the miners over a barrel at that time - the deal was 50 per cent of any profits goes to the government and 50 per goes cent back into the scheme.”

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John Russell worked at Monktonhall colliery near Musselburgh

He said the Government had estimated over the lifetime of the scheme it would take no more than £2 billion. “To date the government has drawn down £4.3 billion.”

Mr Russell said: “Retired miners and miners widows in the Lothians and throughout the UK recently received notice of future pension payments, which, on one hand indicated a small percentage rise in the basic pension but on the other hand under a new title of a reducing bonus cut the money we were already getting.

“There’s 6400 miners and their widows dying every year and there’s only 150,000 in the scheme. That’s going to accelerate because we’re all getting older. The Government is using it as a cash cow. By their own estimation, when this scheme winds up - and they’re working to a 60-year plan - they could take between £60 and £90 billion. It’s robbery.”

The average pension paid out by the scheme is £84 a week. “I’m getting £67 a week for 23 years down a pit. It’s hardly a king’s ransom. I’m by no means the lowest. Some people are really struggling.”

Midlothian Labour candidate Danielle Rowley said: “Miners have done a huge amount of work powering our country and many of them are now living with health conditions related to that work. Now the Government is profiting from their pension scheme, that just isn’t right.”

Labour says it would restructure the scheme, to end the “historic injustice of the unfair distribution of bonuses”.

And Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised former miners they would receive their “fair share” - though there was some scepticism over how that might be interpreted.