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Public Toilet Crisis

05 August 2019 11:30

In the 2018 Loo of the Year Awards thirty-six local authorities entered a total of three hundred and five public toilets and gained an independent assessment of their provision and recognition for their cleaning staff.

In a recent Guardian article Owen Jones, a Guardian columnist, described how important public toilets are and the consequences of the lack of this essential provision. His article follows:

No one should have to pay to pee: it’s time for a toilet fightback. 

A lifeline for the elderly and disabled people, public toilet provision has dwindled. The cuts must be reversed.

You’re running late, you need to pee, but arriving at the toilet turnstiles, you realise that the lack of a shiny 50p piece prevents you from carrying out a basic bodily function. You join the cash machine queue, staring daggers at the guy who is in no rush to find his bank card. With a £10 note finally in the palm of your hand, you join another queue – to buy a KitKat, a Mars bar, whatever. After minutes of this palaver, you’re through the barrier, finally able to find relief. Annoying, sure: but what if you were a pensioner or disabled, and caught short? According to a report by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) – appropriately titled Taking the P*** – a fifth of Britons don’t leave their home as often as they’d like because they know they’ll struggle to find facilities, a phenomenon known as “loo leash”. For those with medical conditions, this affects more than four in 10. Ever found yourself deliberately not drinking in case you get caught short? Over half the public intentionally dehydrate themselves for fear of not finding a loo, according to the report. 

By next year, 60% of government funding for local authority services will have vanished compared with 2010

The people must take to the urinals, conveniences and the cubicles, or what remains of them, because the right to pee is under threat. The decline of the public toilet – leaving us creeping into pubs and hoping to avoid the disapproving glare of the bartender – is just one symptom of the assault on the public realm. By next year, 60% of government funding for local authority services will have vanished compared with 2010. Toilets are not statutory services – that is, councils are not legally obliged to provide them – and so hundreds have been axed. Up to half of public loos may have been closed over the last decade. In Cornwall, the council has stopped maintaining 94% of its toilets. Three in four Britons polled think there are not enough facilities within their communities. But why should we be resigned to this, legs firmly crossed, as a fact of life? Why is removing waste from our doorsteps regarded as an essential, universal service, but allowing us to remove waste from our bodies is not?

The public realm has been subordinated to the whims of the market and profit for over a generation, and toilets are no exception. You’ll often need to spend considerably more than a penny to have a pee. While Network Rail thankfully scrapped toilet charges in busy stations such as King’s Cross and Edinburgh Waverley earlier this year, they remain in place – or are expanding– in parks, stations and public squares across the country. You are, bluntly, being ripped off by what should be described as a bladder tax. should be turned away. For a nation supposedly obsessed with toilet humour, we are remarkably embarrassed talking about our national loo scandal. But the privatisers of public space have taken the piss for too long, and the great toilet fightback should start here.