Ulster Unionist Candidate for West Tyrone, Alicia Clarke, has commented on revelations of a significant gender pay gap at Higher Education Institutions in Northern Ireland.

Alicia Clarke said:

‘We are very proud of the two Universities that serve our community and the economy in Northern Ireland as well as attracting International interest and investment. It is very disappointing to discover therefore that a gender pay gap pervades both organisations.

‘Sadly, our Universities are simply reflective of a wider and more universal issue that runs deep in our economy. We must ensure that action is taken to tackle this issue not just with mentorship schemes and platitudes but at the highest level both at Westminster and in the Assembly.

‘According to an Assembly research paper, published in 2016, the public sector gender pay gap is 7% while in the private sector the gender pay gap is 22%. The Assembly and Westminster must take ownership of this issue and seek ways to ensure that women enjoy the same pay over the course of their life as men in society.

‘This is important for two reasons. Firstly, we need our full workforce to be engaged and valued in the job market, contributing to all sectors of the economy and providing varied insight and skillsets. Secondly, as a society engaged in pursuing true and meaningful equality we must ensure that at this basic level of average earnings for men and women, we are taking action. We simply cannot allow this to persist.

‘The factors contributing to the pay gap are many and it is a complex problem to say the least but there are some clear steps we should take to start to address it. Firstly, we must provide a comprehensive childcare service across Northern Ireland that meets the needs of parents, children and the workplace. We should also pursue incentives to businesses and families that would allow men or women to take time out of work to look after children in the first year of a child’s life. A starting point would be a review of maternity and paternity arrangements. We want to ensure that families have all the options available to make choices that reflect modern family lifestyles.

‘As a young woman it is extremely important to me that I and other women have an equal future here in Northern Ireland. It is time to move into the 21st century and as political parties we must begin to meet the aspirations and ambitions of our people.’

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