Since the millennium, hard-pressed local councils have reduced the level of support for public toilets and nearly 2,000 council-run toilets have closed. The picture is by no means uniform, but 10 local councils across the UK provide no council-run facilities at all.
There is no law that compels councils to make such a provision, although they are empowered to do so, and it is not surprising that it has become a victim of cost savings. Many of us are able to depend on access to toilets in places where we have a commercial relationship (such as supermarkets, pubs or hotels), but some in society are hard-hit: homeless people, those living in rural areas, and in particular people with a disability.
Access to public toilets came about after campaigning in the early 20th century, and it is something we are now in danger of losing. “Disability-friendly” toilets are now available, but their suitability for all types of disability is limited. In particular, although changing facilities for babies and small children are more common, adults who require a changing facility almost invariably have the floor as the “suitable” surface on offer. ASDA is the leading supermarket providing adult changing areas that meet full accessibility standards with hoists and proper facilities, but there are only a handful across the UK.
Disabled toilets on trains are sometimes found out of order, despite passengers checking in advance, and some have felt forced to choose catheterisation or an incontinence pad for dignity.
There are a number of active toilet access campaigns, including Changing Places; Mum on a Mission; and ERIC, the Childrens’ Bowel and Bladder Charity, which coined the Bog Standard slogan. Without proper provision we risk excluding disabled people from society. As this is not only a human rights issue but also a public health matter, it is a cause to which the RCN should consider adding its support.
In Scotland, provision of public toilets is a matter for individual local authorities. There are currently 157 Changing Places toilets in Scotland according to PAMIS. Many local authorities are attempting to make savings to their budgets, either by reducing the number of public toilets or by charging for their use. However, it is possible for people with medical conditions to apply for a RADAR key, which allows free access to any public toilet at any time. Additionally, some local authorities are pursuing their own versions of the Perth and Kinross Comfort Scheme, whereby free use of toilets is made available to the public through partnerships with local service providers such as hotels, pubs and public buildings (Perth and Kinross Council, 2018). These providers receive an annual payment from the Council in exchange. In 2017 Aberdeen City discussed the potential of a similar model for accessible toilet provision.
The Welsh Government is intending to introduce statutory guidance for local authorities on how to assess the need for toilet provision in their communities. Local authorities will also be required to produce local toilet strategies. RCN Wales has responded to the Welsh Government’s public consultation on this matter, and will continue to call for sufficient numbers of accessible public toilets that cater for the varied needs of the population.
Main Auditorium, Belfast Waterfront, 2 Lanyon Place, Belfast, BT1 3WH
Resolution, submitted by the RCN Coventry and Warwickshire Branch
Page last updated - 10/08/2020