The general election campaign is underway – the first in December for nearly 100 years.
A trip to the polling station is not, however, the type of Christmas present I was hoping the government would deliver to the thousands of ex-miners and their widows who may be facing another festive season of keeping those purse strings tighter than they would like.
Me and my Labour colleagues Stephanie Peacock and Nick Smith have been campaigning for fairer pensions for former miners for several years now and have certainly made some progress in raising the profile of their plight.
With the average pension received by those on the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme being just £84 a week, some of our former miners are really struggling to make ends meet.
Meanwhile, thanks to the surplus sharing arrangement between the government and scheme members, which sees profits from pension investments split 50/50, the Treasury has banked billions.
Having studied the latest figures from the pension scheme, we believe that redistributing money lying in the MPS’s Investment Reserve and Guarantor Fund would give pensioners a much-needed windfall in time for Christmas.
There is £1.1bn currently sitting in the Investment Reserve and £1bn in the Guarantor’s Fund.
This money is not available to pay member pensions and will be paid back to the government over time.
Some of these assets have been sitting in the reserves since before the coal industry was privatised in 1994.
We think it is the right thing to do to share out this money among those men who undertook back-breaking work in our coalmines and their widows, giving them a boost before Christmas.
The government has made a lot of money from the MPS already and it seems only fair to redistribute this cash to those who need it, especially when so many people feel that the 50/50 surplus sharing arrangement has meant that pensioners have been short-changed over many years.
It is also a fact that the number of pensioners in receipt of an MPS pension is diminishing every year and if perceived historic wrongs are to be corrected, this needs to be done sooner rather than later.
If just half of the £2bn in the reserves was shared out, that would result in a 10 per cent increase for pensioners. This would increase to 20 per cent if the Government agreed to redistribute the whole sum.
This is not an unreasonable proposal given the huge amounts of money that successive governments have made from the MPS – amounts that far outweigh any initial predictions made when the government became the scheme’s guarantor.
We have written to the Chancellor to ask him to consider our proposal.
I will not be returning to Parliament after the election, but I hope to see my Party in Number 10 and finally able to deliver a fair deal for ex-miners.
Gloria De Piero is Labour MP for Ashfield.