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The disgraces of the UK Coal demise

UK CoalMaybe we shouldn’t be surprised that the demise of UK Coal passed most of the mainstream media by with little comment. There was all that Wimbledon excitement, for a start, and much more importantly the debates that have paved the way for same-sex marriage to become law. Having made history, Westminster is now slipping into recess.

But if you’ve ever worked for UK Coal, or are a widow of a former miner, your world changed for the worse last week – and you might still not even know it.

If you did manage to catch the media reports or Government announcements, UK Coal going bust was almost certainly presented to you as a great success. The company will soon be reborn as UK Coal Production, and the Energy Minister Michael Fallon hailed the “tremendous effort” PricewaterhouseCoopers had undertaken to “secure more than 2,000 jobs.” The Pension Protection Fund (PPF) has rescued miners’ pensions from oblivion, we are told, and any changes to these pensions are part of a necessary restructuring.

There was precious little comment to present the reality of what this deal actually means.  Very little to contradict the stale, corporate celebration of success in restructuring. But as so often with this government, the facts do not support the rhetoric, but the narrative – tired and easily refuted – has largely been allowed to stand unchallenged as public record.

The Pension Protection Fund will actually do the opposite of protecting miners’ pensions. Miners currently working, or who are younger than 60, will lose 10% of their pension. Crucially, in addition to this loss, weak inflation protection within the PPF means that the value of such pension schemes is likely to erode over time.

Miners who have retired, as well as the many widows of ex-miners, will not be exempt from the effects of this masterpiece of corporate restructuring. Thousands rely on the concessionary fuel entitlement to heat their homes, but this will be cut as part of the deal. Even in the wildest Tory fantasies, these ex-miners and widows could not be deemed to be “scroungers”. These miners did difficult, often dangerous work for little pay – benefits such as the fuel entitlement were small measures to recognise this fact.

A Labour councillor in Bassetlaw informed me today that she had spoken to several former miners, all of whom were unaware of the cutting of their fuel benefits. This would seem to suggest that UK Coal have not yet gone to the trouble of writing to their former employees with the news that their fuel allowance was going to redirected to pay to save the jobs of their former colleagues.

If true, this arrogance is symptomatic of decades of mistreatment of mining communities. In 1997 and 1998 British Coal was found to be negligent in relation to claims for Vibration White Finger and chest diseases. It emerged in 2005 that around 150,000 miners who had claimed compensation had been improperly charged by solicitors who had already been paid by the Government. Firms had made huge amounts of money from miners’ suffering – Thompsons made £156 million, Raleys £96 million, and Beresfords £144 million. Miners and their families have faced a huge struggle to reclaim their compensation. Once demonised by Thatcher as “the enemy within,” perhaps they are seen as an easy target.

Most Westminster and media hacks can’t presume to talk for miners; many have little idea of the proud traditions of mining communities, nor of the severe difficulties they now face. But to ignore the debate entirely is to do these communities a disservice – without being challenged by an alternative narrative, this Government will roll over mining communities without hesitation.

6 Comments

  1. John says:

    Don’t really understand about the cuts in allowances to former miners for cheaper fuel, has to do with the few rema ing pits clsing, what about the the pollution that cowl causes, and as for the headline the majority of pits were shut 30 years a ago.

  2. David Mather says:

    The long slow demise is truly sad, but New Labour avoided the mining industry like the plague.
    All governments have done nothing.

  3. Sarah Picken says:

    What a well written article! A very interesting topic and a suitable amount of empathy, whilst maintaining integrity. I’ll be looking out for your next one 🙂

  4. Robert says:

    Dear god Thatcher did not close the pits, Harold Wilson was the chap who closed most Coal mines, yes Thatcher fought the miners and defeated them and she also slapped down a number of other Unions, and she ended mining, but it was on the cards years before.

    Coal is dirty well no more dirty then Nuclear or gas or Oil , yet we still build gas plants Oil power stations.

    In Wales TATA been given permission to build a new coal fired station.

    I’m all for more coal being used, while China Russia and America including Germany still build new plants why not us, well both Labour and the Tories are worried that the miners will start again

  5. peter bell says:

    isnt it funny how common people go around in complete oblivion and do nothing about the loss of all their rights they have been kicked out of work those on benefits are treated like Hitlers Jews and the gypsies of the second world war the miners are just another revenge tool to swing people of Britain a disgrace to their four fathers who died for this country isnt it also nice to see the fat cats getting richer in a country where a dictatorship is now in place to serve the rich.

  6. Donna Marks says:

    If coal is considered too dirty – what happens to these miners? That is all they have known, why are the government not helping to retrain them or at least invest in local eduacation for their off-spring so they don’t stay poor for the rest of their lives.

    When industries like this have to close it leaves pockets full of poverty for generations.

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