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Every person has to go to the toilet several times a day and the need to empty your bladder or bowels doesn’t go away when you leave the house. But the rapid closure of public toilets in the UK is making it harder to find a toilet away from home.

ERIC’s Communications and Campaigns Manager Rhia Favero discusses what should be done to stem the closure of public toilets.

Public toilet
40% of public toilets have been closed in a decade

I don’t have small children, a disability, or a medical condition meaning I need to go to the toilet more frequently or urgently than others, but when I’m away from home I still regularly find myself holding on to a full bladder until I reach my destination because I haven’t been able to find a toilet en route. I can only imagine what it must be like for anyone who can’t hold on until they reach a toilet.

Toilets on TV

I was pleased to see the closure of public toilets discussed on this week’s ‘Daily Politics’ show on BBC2 (01.21 minutes in). But it was disappointing that the introduction to the piece was met with child-like giggles from the panellists. It’s such a shame that politicians and journalists still think not being able to find a toilet is a joke and something that we should avoid talking about, when for many people it’s a serious problem that requires a serious solution.

Fortunately, some politicians understand how important access to public toilets is and are pushing it up the political agenda. In October 2015, MPs debated the availability of accessible toilets and a couple of months earlier the Prime Minister himself admitted that the Government could do more to stem the closure of public toilets.

Public toilets are closing at an alarming rate in the UK

The reason we’ve lost 40% of our public toilets in the last decade is because councils can’t afford the business rates to run them. Councils aren’t legally obliged to provide public toilets, so toilets are one of the services that gets the chop when budget cuts bite.

The question is, should councils be obliged to provide toilets? In my mind, the answer is clear – being able to go to the toilet is a human right, not a convenience, and that right must be respected.

Loos in cafes, shops and pubs

Some councils have collaborated with local businesses like cafes, shops and pubs to open their toilets to non-customers. Many MPs tout this as the answer to the toilet closure problem.

Could locating toilets in local businesses be the solution? I beg to differ. Toilets in establishments like cafes, shops and pubs are often small and located at the back of the business, past tables, chairs, the queue for the till or bar, or up or down a flight of stairs: in other words, not friendly to people with wheelchairs, pushchairs or walking sticks. They also often don’t have enough space to change a child, teenager or adult who has soiled or wet clothes.

What’s more, how are you supposed to know when a business welcomes non-customers to use their toilets? I know many people who would rather buy something from a café to use their toilet, than brazenly use the loo and walk out without purchasing anything. It could get very expensive if you have to buy a cappuccino every time you or your child goes for a wee or needs changing.

Lack of public toilets is ‘desperate’

Raymond Martin, Managing Director of the British Toilet Association, an organisation that campaigns to end the closure of public toilets, appeared on the BBC programme and said the toilets situation in the UK has become “quite desperate”.

Martin suggested a number of ways to remedy the situation, such as by charging to use toilets or locating toilets in tourist information centres or taxi stands.

I have to admit that I resent having to pay to use the loo, but begrudgingly accept that this might be the only way to stop the loss of public toilets.

Have your say on public loos

What do you think the solution should be? Do you think councils should be obliged to provide toilets? Are you happy to pay when nature calls? What is your experience of using toilets in cafes, shops and pubs? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.