Occupational Deprivation

Occupational Deprivation

Occupational deprivation is often believed to only affect those experiencing extreme situations, whose opportunity to complete desired occupations is restricted and limited. These extreme situations allude to those who are refugees, those currently experiencing imprisonment or even those experiencing domestic abuse, for example. So what is “occupational deprivation” and why should we all be aware of it?

What is occupational deprivation?

The definition of occupational deprivation is “prolonged restriction from participation in necessary or meaningful activities due to circumstances outside the individual’s control.” This means that hobbies and activities that people choose to do for their own well-being or as part of cultural norms are being limited. Consequently, rather than occupational deprivation affecting only those in “extreme situations”, it can affect those who are disabled, have mental illness, are homeless, have been hospitalised for prolonged periods, those experiencing racial discrimination, plus many more. Considering this, occupational deprivation is experienced by much more of the population than most people believe. 

The table below shows the number of some of those potentially experiencing occupational deprivation due to their current circumstances.

World Refugees70.4 Million 68.5 Million
UK Homelessness320,000307,000
UK Domestic Abuse2 Million1.9 Million
UK Prison92,500        85,700
UK Disability13.9 Million (2017)11 Million (2014)
UK Poverty Levels after housing costs14.3 Million (2016/17) 14 Million (2015/16)

As these figures show a year-on-year increase, it is likely then that occupational deprivation is also on the rise. 

Why is occupational deprivation so important?

As stated in an earlier blog “what is occupational therapy” the word “occupation” refers to things that occupy your time and bring meaning to your life. The World Federation of Occupational Therapy  (WFOT) states that engagement inoccupations are not only a right, but also a need. Consequently, occupational deprivation results in having a lack of meaning or purposein your life and creates or prolongs mental and physical illnesses. This is due to prolonged occupational deprivation leading to despairerosion of skills, poverty, poor health and social isolation. Whiteford (2011) suggests occupational deprivation is in part due to social exclusion, with political dossiers playing a key role. This is due to these dossiers potentially influencing social opinion, often resulting in negative media portrayal, which continues the cycle. Social division is then ensued, potentially leading to social unrest.  

How can we prevent occupational deprivation?

Occupational Therapy Australia, position paper states that occupational therapists play a key role in raising awareness and bringing communities together, with the aim of reducing occupational deprivation (or occupational injustice). The paper also suggests occupational therapists should remove environmental barriers to facilitate occupation, whilst designing programmes that enable engagementProviding information to policy makersis another way to prevent possible unintended occupational deprivation and increase social cohesion and inclusion. Additionally, Hocking (2017), suggests that continued research to increase understandingof occupational injustice is required. However, to adjust social thinking around those who experience occupational deprivation or injustice, acknowledgement of difference, with a focus on ability rather than what they may be receiving is required


Occupational deprivation is a far-reaching challenge affecting mental and physical well-being. Social cohesion is also affected by occupational balance, which is all influenced by political dossiers presented at that time. Consequently, in order to ensure a cohesive, social and skilled society, a focus on ability in all is required, as is further research and increased awareness. Occupational Therapists play a key role in this through the services offered, information provided and training in environmental adaptations. 

Written by:

Deborah Abson

I am an Occupational Therapist with experience of working in Paediatrics, Pain Management and Orthopaedics. I am passionate about my profession having completed interactive newsletters, posters, speaking at conferences, radio interviews and organising a conference. This website is my progression with all of this, with the hope of reaching a wider audience through the use of educational blogs, whilst providing an easily accessible and affordable service to those in chronic pain.

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