Pensions are not exactly a sexy subject, especially if, like me, you’re not quite nearing retirement.
Yet three months ago, whilst grazing through Twitter, I came across a video from lawyer and political commentator Peter Stefanovic with a message I couldn’t ignore. Over the last 20 years, consecutive governments have taken surplus from the miners’ pension fund to the tune of £8 billion.
South Yorkshire is littered with 29 ex-mining towns and villages and generations of workers have paid into the pension fund. The beneficiaries of such an outrageously large pension fund also happen be living in the fifth poorest regions in Northern Europe (inequalitybriefing.org, 2014).
They have no say in how money is borrowed from their funds or where surplus is spent.
Many families in former mining communities live in poverty, with some younger generations relying on food banks to survive.
Knuckling down the nuts and bolts of this scandal isn’t easy, but in 1994, in conjunction with the privatisation of the coal industry, an agreement was imposed by the pensions fund’s trustees.
This gave the government a majority vote and the ability to change the scheme from a 50/50 share of surplus to 70/30 in favour of the government. It is estimated that £3.7 billion has been removed by government.
Peter Stefanovic is known nationally for his work supporting the junior doctors’ strike and his Twitter feed and Facebook page reach thousands of people every day. He approached the UK Miner’s Pension Scheme Association for Justice and Fair Play to make a video and raise awareness of the miners’ campaign. The video went viral instantly, despite little national or regional news coverage.
The group was launched in 2015 by former miner Les Moore from Stainforth, who is working tirelessly to review documents that have formed the basis of the group’s campaign. His findings reveal at least £8 billion has been taken from the pension fund by different methods. The organisation now has 20,000 signatures on paper and a Facebook discussion group of over 8,000 members.
On 27th September, I joined Les at a rally in Liverpool, where Peter and other key figures spoke publically together. People in their 50s to 80s congregated from ex-mining communities across the country – Kent, Wales, Scotland and Yorkshire. Husbands and wives holding hands, huddled together in the city centre. One man, who suffering from a respiratory disease, had his oxygen canister in his backpack and had travelled miles to been there.
As Peter addressed the crowd, I couldn’t help feeling angry and overwhelmed:
“I have been staggered by the level of injustice, which has been dished out by successive governments in ransacking the pension fund that the miners paid for with their blood and sweat. Our miners were there for us – now we must be there for our miners”.
Earlier this month, Peter came to Doncaster to support Les and other community members who are launching a Christmas single, ‘Merry Christmas From Hatfield Main’. The group, known as the Hatfield Brigade, aim to raise awareness of the campaign and all profits will go towards the local food bank.
Peter feels that both the miners and towns such as Doncaster have been abandoned by the mainstream media. Via sharing posts on Facebook and Twitter, the DN7 Food Bank has started to receive financial donations from members of the public.
Les and all involved in the campaign hope to see a public inquiry. For them, this is about justice and fair play. Records show that 8,000 miners die each year. Their money was spent in good faith to provide them with a worthy retirement.
The miners believe the money taken from their pension should be reimbursed and that it should have been protected by all governments in power. As Les puts it, the fund was not created to be used for any other reason. The campaign is about living in a fair and just society.
“We didn’t vote on the changes made to our pension and that our surplus could be used by successive governments in whatever way they see fit. We are so pleased that Peter is our ally in our plight. We’ve been able to reach thousands of new people and social media shows the British public is behind us.”
You can follow Peter online at peterstefanovic.co.uk.