Research Student: Inga Julia Reichelt
What is work worth? Young Disabled People’s Imagined Futures and Narratives on the Boundaries of Work and Welfare in the UK and Germany
My PhD explores the very challenging and topical question of disabled young people’s worklessness. Drawing on insights from sociology, social policy, labour market studies and vocational psychology the studentship will explore the complex interplay of personal, familial, community, and welfare-work system dynamics that shape disabled young people’s (16-26) imagined futures. We know that in the UK disabled young people’s work-life aspirations are roughly comparable with those of their non-disabled peers at age 16, we also know that by age 18 and 24 these aspirations are depleted and severely depleted respectively. The wider literature on post-24 working age adults points to Institutional (transition professional’s assumptions), employer, cultural, welfare and psycho-emotional barriers to paid work. To date, much work has focused attention on older workers who often had work histories in industrial settings. Here, return to work is the focus and this is rightly perceived to be a policy imperative in reducing disaffection, poor mental health and reducing welfare spend. Younger disabled people, while receiving greater policy attention in continental Europe have not received the same level of academic or policy scrutiny. Given the formative nature of the period 16-24 in founding young disabled people’s constructions of social opportunity, selfhood and life opportunities this area arguably needs more research and policy response. I will take a comparative approach, which explores the situation of young disabled people in the UK in relation to paid employment, and contrast it with the situation of young disabled people in Germany. This is particularly interesting because the logics of disability policy and labour policy in both countries arguably creates opposite mechanisms of exclusion for certain groups of young disabled people.
I am originally from Germany and completed my BA in Integrated Social Sciences at Jacobs University Bremen, Germany in 2013, during which I discovered my passion for Disability Studies.
Before moving to Leeds, I completed internships at the German National Monitoring Body for the implementation of the UN-CRPD in Berlin, and at the German NGO Disability and Development Cooperation (bezev).
I then completed my MA in Social Research (with Distinction) at the University of Leeds in 2015. I wrote my dissertation on ‘The impact of and barriers to paid work experienced by young disabled people in Dhaka, Bangladesh’, having gone abroad to do my fieldwork in Dhaka. You can find a policy brief based on my research here.
What motivated me to undertake PhD study?
I see my PhD and its focus as a natural next step in exploring my own experiences of oppression, but more importantly, I am motivated to explore and amplify the voices and experiences of young disabled people as a peer-researcher. Having struggled with a 9 to 5 work routine and full-time employment during my paid internships, I realised the importance of the topic of work, and how it constructs the future for young disabled people.
Growing up, I was often told that because I did well in education, I would be fine in the labour market, but suddenly I found myself feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by the demands of full-time employment combined with a lack of assistance and the long distances I had to commute. This triggered various worries about the future within me. I wanted to find out how other young disabled people (of various impairment groups, facing diverse barriers) experienced employment, navigated the welfare system, and transitioned into adulthood and autonomy. Since disability welfare and policy are structured quite differently in the UK and Germany, taking a comparative approach seemed suitable, and it allows me to draw on my own experiences of growing up in Germany.
What makes me passionate about my subject?
As a young disabled woman who was born with an impairment, my research is usually intricately tied to my own personal experiences of disablity. I want to contribute to the fight for the liberation of all disabled people, inside and outside of academia.
What are my plans once I have completed my PhD?
I can imagine staying in academia, preferably as a Teaching Fellow, since I enjoy transmitting knowledge and facilitating learning. I would also like to work in non-formal social justice education, or work in a Disabled People’s Organisation, focusing on the empowerment of young people.