Former miners across the North East could be hundreds of pounds a year better off after a change in the Government’s industrial disease rules.
Monday’s Budget added Dupuytren’s Contracture - known as ‘miners claw’ - to the list of prescribed diseases for which Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit is payable.
Dupuytren’s Contracture causes the fingers to curl over into a claw-like state, and can lead to amputation. The incurable condition is common among former pitmen and also affected former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
The change, which is expected to be worth around £1,200 a year for the average claimant, comes after a four-and-a-half-year campaign by the Durham Miners’ Association (DMA).
The Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC) initially recommended the Government recognise the condition as an industrial disease in 2014, but the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) refused to do so.
The DMA has been campaigning ever since to have the condition recognised, and has co-ordinated efforts by MPs, unions and community groups to have the decision reversed.
Earlier this year, Labour MPs from across the region signed an open letter in support of the campaign and DMA Secretary Alan Cummings, alongside City of Durham MP Roberta Blackman-Woods, and North West Durham MP Laura Pidcock, travelled to London in June to meet DWP Minister Sarah Newton.
She promised a review of the decision, which led to Monday’s announcement. The DMA is seeking clarification on whether benefits will be back-dated.
"We welcome the decision to finally recognise Dupuytren’s Contracture as an industrial disease – but it is a disgrace that it has taken so long, and that there has been such resistance from this Government," said DMA Secretary Alan Cummings.
"Dupuytren’s Contracture is a serious and debilitating condition for many people, affecting their ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.
"In the four-and-a-half years since the IIAC made this recommendation, many people have continued to struggle without the support they need, and some of our members have died while suffering from this disease.
"We are glad that those suffering from Dupuytren’s Contracture will begin to receive help – it will make a real difference to their lives. We are thankful for the support we’ve received in this campaign – particularly from Laura and Roberta."
Laura Pidcock said: "We should be in no doubt, this Government will try to get away with taking as much as they possibly can from our communities, including from those who’ve given their health and wellbeing to the coal industry. That is why it is imperative we fight these battles, and win these victories, which mean so much to those affected.
"The Government were wrong to deny former miners with Dupuytren’s Contracture the help they were entitled to in the first place, and now, they are simply doing the right thing.”
Roberta Blackman-Woods added: "I am absolutely delighted that the Government has finally agreed to take the advice of the Industrial Injury Advisory Council (IIAC) to add Dupuytren’s contracture to the list of known work-related injuries.
"Despite being accepted by the IIAC in 2014, the Government recently decided that Dupuytren’s contracture would not be recognised as an industrial disease. The DMA has campaigned tirelessly since 2014 to get this disease accepted as a work related injury, and I am so pleased that their hard work has paid off.
"Although it has taken many years of work to get to this point, I hope that this decision will make a difference to the many former miners and other workers in Durham and elsewhere affected by this debilitating disease."
Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott welcomed the announcement.
"I am delighted that Dupuytren’s Contracture has eventually been recognised by the Government as an Industrial Disease," she said.
"However, it is appalling that it has taken so long for them to come to this decision.
"Hopefully now, former miners who suffer from this condition will get the benefits they so rightly deserve."
Easington MP Grahame Morris said: "The Government have ignored the recommendations of the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council for four and a half years without cause or justification.
"I am pleased mineworkers in my constituency, who sacrificed their health in the coal industry, will receive the support they require.
"Coalfield communities have shown immense patience and perseverance with a Government intent on blocking and delaying any proposals to help former mineworkers.
"I am delighted we have secured a successful outcome, and I will continue to work with former miners in my constituency as we fight over historic injustices involving the Mineworkers Pension Scheme and the unfair Surplus Sharing Arrangements."
His Hartlepool colleague Mike Hill added: "Depuytren’s Contracture is a terrible and crippling industrial disease, and it’s a disgrace that it has taken so long for it to be officially recognised by the Government.
"Hartlepool doesn’t have any pits, but we do have former miners living here and people suffering from this terrible condition. As the great-grandson of two former mineworkers myself I am pleased that the DMA’s campaign has been a success."