There is a growing and widespread public health issue hitting towns and cities across the UK. It is more likely to affect women, the elderly, the disabled, those with medical conditions and those with babies and young children. It’s a problem (that due to funding and embarrassment) is often swept under the carpet, but one that makes a very real difference to the quality of life for the majority of population. It’s the issue of access to well-maintained, clean and hygienic public lavatories and their loss from the everyday landscape.
Back in August, a BBC Reality Check report by Lora Jones & Rachel Schraer highlighted the decline in public toilet provision across the UK, stating that some UK high streets and tourist hot spots now no longer have any council-run public toilets and that ‘at least 673 public toilets across the UK have stopped being maintained by major councils (unitary, borough, district and city) since 2010.’
While in some areas this has meant that larger councils have simply passed the burden of maintaining loos to smaller parish/town councils, or community groups, in others the facilities have been closed completely. In these instances, good-natured local businesses are relied upon to open their toilets to the public, but with no legal duty for then to allow non-paying customers access, what do you do when nature calls and there isn’t a public lavatory in sight?
Getting caught short is no laughing matter according to Kevin, Wellman, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Plumbing & Heating Engineering (CIPHE). “Councils currently have no legal requirement to provide public toilets, and so when budgets need to be cut, the humble loo is normally top of the list. We believe this is fundamentally wrong. Public toilets should not be a luxury, they are a necessity, especially for the elderly, disabled and those with health issues such as Crohn’s Disease or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. For those requiring changing facilities, parents and carers need somewhere safe, hygienic and well equipped with adequate changing tables and disposal facilities for nappies and wipes.”
“Public toilets provide dignity, independence and safety, they also protect public health. Vital to local economies, public toilets allow people access our high streets and tourist attractions, who may otherwise be unable to visit without adequate facilities. For many, access to clean and well-maintained public lavatories makes the difference between being isolated indoors, to being able to leave the house to complete basic everyday tasks. Public toilets are not only a lifeline to many in our communities, but they fulfil a basic human need.”
And so with World Toilet Day taking place on 19thNovember, the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering is calling on Government and councils across the nation to recognise the importance of public toilets. In particular it us urging councils to find the funds to keep these vital facilities open.
“World Toilet Day usually focuses on the plight of sanitation in third world countries, but there is an increasing epidemic on our own shores when it comes to the closure of public conveniences.”
“The money ‘saved’ closing public toilets down is a false economy when you take into account the impact on everyday lives and local businesses,” continued Kevin, “It is often the most vulnerable in society who are affected by closures and with the population expanding, the demand for public toilets will only increase. With the public’s help we can help raise awareness and show local councils how valued their toilet facilities really are.”
The CIPHE is therefore launching its ‘Love your local lav’ campaign to raise awareness of the importance of public lavatories. You too can get involved on social media by using the hashtag #LoveYourLocalLav and #SaveTheLoo in posts explaining why your local public facilities make a difference to you. Don’t forget to tag in your local council too!
For more information on how to get involved visit Love your local lav.
To find your nearest public toilet visit the Great British Toilet Map at https://www.toiletmap.org.uk/
For the full BBC Reality Check report by LoraJones & Rachel Schraer, see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-45009337