MINERS are celebrating a final victory over Margaret Thatcher after battling for decades to have a painful work-related condition recognised by the Government.

Hundreds of miners have been calling for Dupuytren’s contracture – a condition which causes the hands to curl into claws – to be recognised and compensated by the authorities if developed as a result of their work.

The condition, which is also known as Celtic hand or miner’s claw, can also be genetic and is more commonly found in Scottish and Irish people, with famous sufferers including Margaret Thatcher.

Due to the genetic link, miners say it took them longer to have the condition recognised as also coming from the use of power tools and vibrating machinery over long periods.

Now, after 20 years of campaigning, miners and others who have developed the condition through their employment will be able to apply for benefits from December 9 this year.

Alex Bennett, a former chairman of the National Union of Mineworkers at Monktonhall colliery, has been part of the campaign to have Dupuytren’s recognised by the government.

Having worked in the mines since he was a teenager, Bennett said he had seen many of his colleagues develop the disability which can cause cramps, pain and problems with grip.

Bennett himself first developed it more than 20 years ago and, despite having operations to straighten his fingers, he said it still causes him problems.

He said: “It’s a real pain, and it affects your grip. Your fingers turn in. You can’t do things that you used to be able to do, and this payment will really help not just me but lots of people who have it.

“I did have an operation, the first one was 20 years ago and it helps straighten the fingers, it affects the tendons in your hands but it has come back.

“I am just glad that this has finally been done. When we found out, we were all so relieved. We have been fighting for it for a long time.”

According to the Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit guidelines, those who have used vibrating machinery for 10 years, for at least two hours a day, three days a week or more, are entitled to claim payment if they develop the disease.

Bennett said many other people could have the condition but may not know it was caused by their jobs.

He said: “As a miner, I used those tools for a lot more than 10 years. I was a miner until I was 50, for more than 35 years. I’m 72 now.

“There were quite a few of my colleagues who have it too, a lot of them were diagnosed when they were pursuing claims for vibration white finger.

“Dupuytren’s doesn’t just affect miners, it affects anyone who has been using electric tools, and there will be a lot of folk now who don’t know they’ve got it.

“I’m thinking of people like the guys out on the roads, or who work in construction. Anyone else who has this condition, they need to seek advice to see if it has been caused through their work.”

When Bennett first sought help, he was also seeking treatment for the common industrial injury vibration white finger. However, medics were unaware at that time that Dupytren’s could be caused by power tools.

Margaret Thatcher was one of the most famous sufferers of Dupytren’s, which Bennett said was part of the reason why it took so long for the link to be made between machinery and the condition.

She had several operations to straighten her fingers but, like Bennett, it only lasted for a short time before her fingers began curling back again.

He said: “With everything Maggie Thatcher did to the miners, she continued to be a complete pain when it came to getting this condition recognised. Even after she was prime minister, long after, she still caused us problems.

“When I got diagnosed with vibration white finger, I spoke to the consultant and he mentioned the Dupuytren’s. I asked if it could be caused through work.

“He said at that time that it wasn’t recognised as work-related because Margaret Thatcher had it.

“Doctors said that because she had it, it can’t have been caused by working in mines, and it was a genetic condition.

“It was only later when the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council recognised that it was caused by exposure to vibratory tools.

“There are things you used to be able to do but you can’t now, because of the lack of grip. There are fiddly things like doing your garden and changing plugs, which you can’t do now, or at least I can’t do it now.

“It is a complete nuisance. This weather I have leather gloves but I can’t get them on as my fingers are very bent. It doesn’t help in the cold weather, and it feels like cramps in your hand at times.”

Bennett has been a longstanding campaigner for miners’ rights, having worked in the Monktonhall colliery in East Lothian from 1965 until its closure in 1997.

He explained: “This will definitely help people financially.

“I worked at Monktonhall in 1965 and finished up in 1997. I was sacked during the miners’ strike, of course, I was found guilty of breach of the peace and they sacked me.

“It was a difficult time, but I made it through. I’ve ended up with carpal tunnel syndrome, plus other things like Dupuytren’s.

“I think there will be a lot of people who have it who won’t know about it.

“We’re alright with the miners’ union as we’re pretty well organised with industrial diseases, we always have been. I’m thinking about the likes of boys on the roads with jackhammers, other construction workers. Who is going to advise them?”

Bennett urged anyone with symptoms of the condition to consult their doctor and consider whether it could be related to their work.

Background: the fight for recognition

GOVERNMENT ministers took years to recognise Dupuytren’s as a work-related injury, despite calls from politicians and their own experts to do so.

In 2014, the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council, an independent body which advises the Government on work-related diseases and conditions, recommended Dupuytren’s be listed as a compensable disease.

Despite the recommendation, it took until 2018 for then-Chancellor Phillip Hammond to include the condition as part of the welfare budget.

It finally appeared on the list in April this year, with benefits able to be paid from December 9. It is expected to give those affected an extra £1,200 a year.

Durham’s Labour MP Grahame Morris has been leading the campaign from inside Westminster, and welcomed the decision to finally recognise the disease.

He 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.”

While those who have developed the condition through their jobs will be compensated, thousands of people across the country who have it genetically will not be.

It is not clearly understood why those with Celtic heritage are more commonly affected by the disease, which is named after Baron Guillaume Dupuytren, the French surgeon who identified it in the 19th century.

In the UK, around two million people are thought to have the condition and it is one of the most common seen by hand surgeons.

While some operations can be successful in treating the condition, they often do not do so permanently.