This Monday, 4th February, marks the 25th anniversary of the closure of Goldthorpe Main – the last pit in Barnsley. Although it would take a further 8 months to run down the supplies, February 1994 marked the end of an era.
Barnsley is a town built on coal. The pits are an inextricable part of our history – it is the coalminer and the glassblower stood together on our town’s coat of arms – and the winding wheels that remain in place, are a poignant reminder of our industrial heritage. Also testament to that heritage are the generations of men who spent their entire working lives underground, many of them paying the price of serious illness, ruined lungs and even their lives. It was the hard graft of Barnsley miners that powered our communities and industries – but in the quarter of a century since the last pit closed, miners and their families have received a raw deal from successive governments.
Take the case of Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB). Miners who suffer from serious respiratory illnesses such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) or Pneumoconiosis, otherwise known as “Miners’ Lung”, are being refused payment of IIDB. Doctors and DWP assessors are reluctant to diagnose these conditions and even more unwilling to agree a conclusive link between respiratory illnesses and time working in the coal mines. It should be obvious: if you spent your entire working life in a mine, breathing in coal dust on a daily basis, you are bound to be more likely to suffer from lung disease in retirement. But sadly the Department of Work and Pensions do not recognise this reality, and former miners are going without ill-health benefits that they rightly deserve and are entitled to.
Likewise, for those miners who were fortunate enough to avoid serious illness, there is still the problem of the deeply flawed and unfair Mineworkers’ Pensions Scheme (MPS) and the issue of surplus sharing. Under the current rules of the Scheme, the government are receiving half of all pension surpluses that should be paid to the retired miners. The theory is that because the government provide a financial guarantee for the Scheme they deserve an equal share of the profits.
However, the reality is that the government have not provided a penny in financial support to the Scheme and yet have received over £3.36 billion over the last 25 years. It is perfectly clear that the MPS needs to be reformed to work in the interests of surviving members. No-one is suggesting that the government receive nothing from the MPS – but a reform that gives 90% of surpluses back to miners and 10% to the government would be fairer, and would benefit former miners and their families now.
Ever since I was first elected as MP for Barnsley Central I have fought for the interests of retired miners, and have represented hundreds on an individual basis, and will continue to do so. So if you have been affected by IIDB or the MPS and would like my support, or to share your experiences, then please get in touch on 01226 787893. Thank you.
This article was originally published in the Barnsley Chronicle on 8 February 2019.