Steffan Lewis’ campaign for miners’ pensions has reached a new milestone
Rhys Mills, Plaid Cymru Town Cllr for Blackwood South
“We should not forget that the miners’ pension scheme surplus was also used by Gordon Brown when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer to pay miners compensation for injuries that they sustained during their work.
“Let’s just think about that for a second… that’s an absolute disgrace and we should never forget that.”
These are the words of my friend and colleague Steffan Lewis AM during the snap general election campaign of 2017. He was the real deal, a gifted politician and a gentleman. These two things very rarely combine in politics, but they did with him.
You see, the miners were forced to take the UK Labour government to court for compensation, and when the government lost they paid the miners from the surplus of their own pension pot.
Just let that sink in! The miners were forced to take a Labour government to court to fight for compensation that they deserved and the Labour government took the money from the miners’ own pension scheme!
The issues with the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme began 25 years ago. At the time, ministers agreed the Government would act as guarantor for two pension schemes.
The Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme, with 200,000 members, and the British Coal Staff Superannuation Scheme, with 57,000 members.
Under a deal made with the government, any surplus money gained from the scheme would be split 50/50 between the Treasury and scheme members.
While it was estimated the funds would generate a £2 billion surplus over 25 years, it has done far better than expected. Last November, energy minister Claire Perry revealed £617 million had been taken by the Treasury in 2018 alone.
We’re now in a situation where over £10 billion has been taken by the British Government while former miners and miners’ widows are surviving on about £80 a week.
Steffan decided to make fighting this injustice an integral issue for the party and his office and so, with the dignity and skill he’s now famous for, laid down a motion in the Senedd calling for an independent review of the pension scheme surplus.
He insisted that it should be cross-party and include all devolved legislatures so that a critical mass could be called on when needed. That motion was backed unanimously by the Senedd and as Steffan closed that debate he again delivered for the miners.
“When they [mineworkers] were robbed of their jobs, an attempt was made to take away their dignity too,” he said.
“As they now enter their autumn and winter years, let us work together for them, in order to ensure them dignity in retirement, with justice in their pensions.”
Ken Sullivan, a retired miner and long-standing campaigner on the issue and member of Plaid Cymru was delighted that he’d finally found a frontline politician that would take up his cause and help. Like I said, Steffan really was the real deal.
Letters were sent and questions were asked but just as importantly, Ken and his team had already started collecting signatures with the aim of triggering a parliamentary debate. They needed 100,000 signatures, a massive task.
I’m pleased to report that Ken and the team have reached that milestone this week. If you live in South Wales, there’s a good chance that you’ve seen them on your local high street. They’ve been out campaigning for the last four years, in all weather.
I am in awe and can not give enough praise to Harry Parffit, along with former miners and colliers Ken Sullivan, Emlyn Davies, Gareth Hughes and Neville Warren. These men really are the best of us.
Today they will take their campaign to the Senedd, and I am so pleased they’ve been invited to do so by Delyth Jewell AM. Both current leader Adam Price and his predecessor Leanne Wood have played a crucial part in the Party’s attempt to get justice for the miners. In an interview in the Western Mail this week Ken was unequivocal in his praise.
“For the group it wouldn’t be possible without the outstanding support of Plaid Cymru AM Steffan Lewis, who lost his battle against cancer in January,” he said.
On Wednesday the team will present their petition to Number 10 Downing Street, alongside Plaid Cymru MPs.
We’re not expecting this week to be the end of the journey, far from it. The British State has turned ignoring issues such as this one into an art form. But we will not give in because the injustice is too great to ignore.
Time is of the essence, the number of people in the scheme is diminishing every year.
This week will be the proudest of my short political life. I have the honour of keeping a promise I made to my friend. I’ll get to witness Ken and his team deliver on their hard work.
It will be an honour to do so. I only wish that Steffan was here to see it.
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