Miners' pensions to fund payouts for lung disease

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The Independent Online
Miners who won up to pounds 3.6bn in compensation for bronchitis and emphysema will fund a large chunk of their payout from their own pension funds, it emerged yesterday.

The Government will get a pounds 1.15bn bonus over the next 10 years from surpluses amassed by the miners' and British Coal staff pension schemes.

It was able to do this after taking over the schemes when the coal industry was privatised.

Under arrangements made by the Conservatives, the Government will take 50 per cent of all future surpluses in return for guaranteeing pension payments. Yesterday Bleddyn Hancock, South Wales general secretary of the pit deputies' union Nacods, said the Government should hand back the money to miners and find the compensation from other sources. "It would be a despicable act if the miners have to pay for their own compensation," he said.

"The Prime Minister should tell us if he intends to use the money that miners have earned over a lifetime of work and paid into their own pension funds to meet the bill for compensation that now falls on the Government," he said.

Between them, the Mine Workers' Pension Scheme and the British Coal Staff Superannuation Scheme have assets of more than pounds 20bn. Last year, the mine workers' scheme declared a surplus of pounds 1.5bn, half of which was taken by the Government.

Now the staff scheme, of which Mr Hancock is a trustee, is to declare a surplus of more than pounds 750,000 which will also be split between pensioners and the Government. Although the pensioners' payments are index-linked, Mr Hancock said the staff pensioners could have received a bonus of pounds 10 per week each on top of that from their scheme's surplus. Instead, they received just pounds 5.

Mr Hancock led the recent High Court battle for compensation for miners with chest diseases.

Up to 100,000 former miners are likely to claim compensation from British Coal, whose liabilities have been taken on by the Government. The judge found the company, and the Coal Board before it, had been negligent in failing to take reasonable steps to minimise coal dust which triggered the diseases.

A spokesman for the Department of Trade and Industry said the Government had actually paid pounds 2.5bn into the staff scheme over the past 40 years.