Tuesday 29 December 2015

It's time to re-launch a campaign for decent public toilet provision - it's an equality issue

A student teacher colleague, a vicar's daughter, had an unfortunate experience with a Clapham Junction infant class on a long coach trip, when on the motorway, they all started wailing that they wanted a 'wee'.  Red cheeked she remonstrated that she had asked them if they 'wanted to go' before the trip and nobody had said yes.  It turned out that she had asked them if they wanted to 'spend a penny'. None of them were familiar with the genteel phrase - hence the crisis.

I was reminded of this in Hammersmith at the weekend when there was a queue for the public toilets at '50p a pee' with some families debating with their children whether they could 'hold it in' and others pushing kids under the turnstile and risking them going inside on their own. In fact 50 pence is cheap in comparison with some public toilets which can go up to £2. One teenager in the queue remarked to her disgrunbtled friend, 'If you want a decent toilet you have to pay for it.'

But the issue is not just the cost of public toilets but whether they are available at all and what this means for people with young children, pregnant women, the disabled, the elderly - and in Wembley the football fans who have had several drinks too many before the match.

British and Irish humour has a rich tradition of 'toilet humour', my grandfather taught me the song 'Oh, dear what can the matter be, three old ladies stuck in the lavatory, they were there from Monday to Saturday', a cleaner version of the Irish 'Seven old ladies etc' LINK.  But actually this is no joking matter for people who find their quality of life, and in some cases their freedom to go out of the house for long periods, severely affected by the lack of public lavatories. I have heard from parents that the lack of public toilets in some of our parks, such as King Edward VII in Wembley, means that they do not use the park for extended visits, picnics etc.

Back in the 80s many public toilets were sold off and turned over to other uses - I remember an architect's studio in Fulham and a basement billiards club on Shepherds Bush Green. Despite various campaigns over the decades they have not been replaced.

A petition LINK was launched to the Coalition government in 2012 with a simple demand:
The law currently allows, but does not compel Local Authorities to provide toilets. The situation is worsening; 40% of Public Toilets have closed in the last decade.

Many people lead restricted lives because they cannot rely on access to a Public Toilet in the places and at the times required. There are rarely sufficient toilets for women, resulting in lengthy queues; elderly and disabled people cannot always find accessible toilets; provision for babies and children is inadequate; many toilets shut at inconvenient times. Lack of toilets can lead to street fouling; a major public health issue. "Community toilets" (toilets in private business premises) do not meet everyone's needs.

Good public toilet provision will enable everyone to participate fully in civic life and will attract visitors and boost local economies.

We want a law requiring Local Authorities to provide and maintain suitable, safe, clean and appropriately located Public Toilets with realistic opening hours.
As long ago as 2004 the London Green Party made it a campaign issue and as the situation has deteriorated since then I think we should once again make it an issue. There is little in the statement that does not still apply:  LINK
According to [the] report, entitled ‘Toilets going to waste", London is suffering from a severe shortage of public loos, and nowhere more so than in Islington, which has fewer public facilities per head than any other London borough.

In London as a whole, the number of toilets open for more than 12 hours a day has decreased by half since 1995, causing severe difficulties for thousands of elderly or incontinent people or those with young children.

Greens believe all levels of government should act to reverse this decline, making good toilet provision a statutory requirement.

There is a huge disparity in the number of toilets per head of population within London boroughs, with Greenwich in the lucky position of having one facility for every 5,000 people and Islington at the other end of the scale with 58,000 people fighting for the use of each public loo.

“Everyone needs to use a public toilet at some point," says Jon Nott.

"This report shows what a dreadful state London’s public conveniences are in, particularly in Islington, where you clearly need a bladder of steel. This is a serious problem and if not addressed could lead to our streets becoming a major health hazard.”

"In many parts of London, such as Islington, the only option for people is the less civilised one," adds Noel Lynch, who compiled the report. "Our streets are becoming an urban toilet, clearly unbefitting for a world-class city."

Where toilets do exist they are often in an appalling state of repair or are inaccessible to many due to their positioning. Often toilets are  located down steep fights of stairs or are lacking the space to make them a feasible option for disabled people. Greens want to see local councils putting money into new toilets that are accessible to all members of the public.

"Poor toilet provision is an inconvenience for anyone but it is an  issue of discrimination for all those people who cannot gain access to toilets due to thoughtless positioning," says Noel. "I have heard from lots of people whose lives are restricted by the lack of toilets in London."

In order to halt the trend in declining numbers of public loos the report makes the following recommendations:
  • The government should place councils under a legal duty to provide good toilets.
  • The mayor should ensure that all the spaces in his 100 Public Spaces Programme have well-equipped, accessible toilets.
  • Boroughs should identify those areas that need the new or refurbished toilets and embark on a 5-year programme to re-open, re-furbish or install new toilets.
  • Boroughs should ensure that new developments include good quality toilets and secure agreements with the owners of large stores and pubs to make their toilets open to the public in return for council sponsored cleaning.
An Equalities Impact Assessment would show that the lack of public toilet facilities impacts disproportionately on particular groups of the population but more broadly it is an indicator of the deterioration in public provision and the impact of privatisation over since the 70s.

This is the case the British Toilet Assocation LINK set out and one I think we should support:

Why do we need more and better toilets?

There are an increasing number of specialist user groups, whose lives are affected by the state of Britain’s public toilets. These include people with mental or physical disabilities and their carers; the infirm or elderly; people with babies or young children and people of all ages who are coping with a range of medical conditions.

  • Britain’s population has an increasingly significant ‘ageing’ profile
  • Residents travel more within the country, and the number of visitors to Britain increases each year, placing added pressure on our existing toilet facilities
  • Public health and hygiene, as well as environmental issues, are constantly in the news, with increasing media interest in all matters relating to public toilets
  • Public toilets are the ‘shop window’ for any area or establishment – where first and lasting impressions of levels of customer care are made

What are the British Toilet Association’s Objectives?

  • To focus attention on issues relating to the provision of public or ‘away from home’ toilets
  • To campaign for appropriate legislation relating to the provision of public toilets by Local Authorities
  • To campaign for high standards of public or ‘away from home’ toilets in all areas, including municipal locations, health, education, transport, leisure, hospitality and retail establishments
  • To campaign for the provision of an adequate number of facilities for women, in relation to the number of facilities provided for men.
  • To campaign for adequate facilities for specialist user groups, such as wheelchair users, the elderly, babies and young children and people with medical conditions.
  • To campaign for the provision of secure, fully attended public toilet facilities, with extended opening hours.
  • To campaign for the eradication of all types of social misuse and vandalism in public toilets.
  • To provide a forum for public toilet providers, contractors, suppliers and users to share concerns and ideas and communicate best practices.
  • To provide consultancy and information services to Association members on a range of relevant subjects.
  • To establish links with similar Toilet Associations in other countries


Noel Lynch said...

Thanks for highlighting this important issue. When I was in the Assembly, I got more post on this issue than all my other campaigns. I can send you a copy of my report if you wish.
Happy New Year,

Caroline Russell said...

Also an issue for menstruating teenage girls doing sports in parks. Won't participate if no toilets available. Managed to get new toilets in Highbury Fields last summer after a local campaign.

Martin Francis said...

Thanks Noel. Yes, please send me a copy.

Anonymous said...

I loved 'Bladder of Steel'
This issue seems to be crying out for some direct action, it would seem.
And some slogans to unite behind. How about:


Alison Hopkins said...

The issue of the lack of loos is a constant one at the Friends of Gladstone Park meetings. Part of the problem is that when the Stables is closed, as it often is, there's literally nowhere to go.

Anonymous said...

One of the key complaints about the workers congregating at Chichele Road or Honey Pot Lane was the idea (myth?) that the people were urinating and defecating everywhere.

The Labour Council, in its Wisdom sought to attack civil liberties (and in the process working people) through its support of Public Space Protection Orders in a futile attempt to stop a (at least) century old tradition. If however, the problem was truly people having no-where convenient to use the toilet, perhaps provision of public toilets would have been a more effective strategy to reduce any impact people waiting for work would have on local people.

Scott Bartle.