North East Labour MP calls for reform of mineworkers' pensions to address past injustices

Grahame Morris
Grahame Morris -Credit:Newcastle Chronicle

A County Durham MP has called on the Government to reform mineworkers' pensions to address past injustices.

Grahame Morris, Labour MP for Easington, accused ministers of neglecting deprived mining communities, with some retired miners receiving just £10 a month under the current scheme. The Mineworkers' pension Scheme was privatised in 1994 and in that time, the Government has received 50% of surpluses in its value, which amounts to £4.8 billion.

In an emotional speech, Mr Morris said coalfield communities have never fully recovered from de-industrialisation. He told the Commons: "The Government have ignored and neglected our most deprived mining communities, far from levelling-up, Conservative ministers have widened economic inequality."

He added: "Low wealth in our region coincides with low wages, making my region in the North East the lowest paid region in the country. The Government could alleviate this in part by addressing past injustices and ensuring retirement security for mine workers and their widows, by reforming the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme, in line with the (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) select committee recommendations that were published in April 2021.

"A legacy of mining is industrial disease, cutting lives short, including that of my own father and grandfather, both coalminers who passed away in their 50s before reaching retirement age. My father died in the belief that his pit pension would provide security for my aging mother – who is incidentally celebrating her 88th birthday on Sunday.

"However, we do know that some pensioners receive as little as £10 a week from the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme. Our miners created the wealth that made this country great, with the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme being amongst the UK’s largest pension funds.

"However money that should be used to provide security in retirement is being siphoned off by the Treasury, taking half of all the pension funds’ services. In a Parliamentary response to me dated December, ministers confirmed they had taken £4.8 billion… out of the pension scheme."

He continued: "This money should be used to enhance pensions, it wouldn’t only provide extra security in retirement, but would support our local economies, coalfield communities, employment, and small businesses.

"This is due to the vast majority of retired miners and their widows continuing to live in our coalfield communities. The moral case for reform is only strengthened by an unfulfilled promise of a disgraced former prime minister."

Mr Morris urged his Labour frontbench to commit to pension justice at "the earliest opportunity." He also argued that it is "imperative that ministers commit to uncovering the truth" four decades on from the miners' strike.

He added: "The policing of the strike was notorious, marked by perjury, fabricated evidence, willingly accepted in the Government’s war on the mines."

Later in the debate, Paul Howell, Conservative MP for Sedgefield, said mining villages had been left behind by low connectivity. He added: "How can residents aspire to social mobility, if they don’t even have the physical mobility to reach better jobs."

Ian Lavery, Labour MP for Wansbeck, said he believes he is the only MP currently a member of the mine workers' pension scheme. Mr Lavery said: "The mine workers pension scheme, it’s deferred wages, any pension is deferred wages, and that’s to be recognised.

"The 50/50 split came in 1994, it was a crime. 4.4 billion plus syphoned off, trousered by the Tory Government."

Emma Lewell-Buck, Labour MP for South Shields, said the Government is "pocketing the miners' pension surplus". She said: "Over £4 billion has been given to the Government, 420 million in the last three years alone.

"The Government keeps saying we need to strike a fair balance. There’s nothing fair about this at all when miners and their widows are left destitute on as little as £18 per week.

"Although we shouldn’t be surprised, as the Waspi women know all too well, this Government has form when it comes to pension grabbing."