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In the past three decades there have been many efforts at removing discrimination between people on grounds of sex, both in legislation and in practice. It has come to be accepted that, apart from certain excluded areas, men and women should have equal opportunities and equal rights in equivalent circumstances. This ‘principle of equal treatment’ of the sexes means, amongst other things, that there must be equal rewards for the same work.
Legal effect to these concepts was given by the Equal Pay Act 1970 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, both of which excluded from their ambit provision in respect of death or retirement and statutory instruments then in force (e.g. the Social Security Acts, which enshrine unequal State pensionable ages).
In 1986, Helen Marshall successfully won her case before the European Court, that she should have the right to the same contractual retirement age as her male colleagues. As a result, the Sex Discrimination Act 1986 modified the ‘death or retirement’ exclusions of the 1975 Act to provide that one sex cannot be compulsorily retired before the other but retained the exception that permits one sex to have an earlier normal pension age.