All over the UK, public toilets are being closed in order to trim local authority spending. The resultant impact on older people can be significant by reducing their ability to visit town and city centres. But Age UK London is leading the fightback…
Good provision of public toilets is a hallmark of a civilised and welcoming place to be. Unfortunately the long-term decline in the number of public toilets has accelerated in recent years and the situation in London and elsewhere is much more than just an inconvenience.
Did you know that:
* Providing toilets is not a statutory service and Local Authorities are not legally obliged to provide public toilets.
* Since 2016 there has been a 19% decrease in the number of public toilets in the UK.
* As many as one in five of us avoid leaving home as much as we would like because of concerns about a lack of available toilets – this is what is known as ‘the loo leash’.
* Nearly half (43%) of those of us with medical conditions requiring more frequent toilet use experience this loo leash.
* Only 32.9% of public toilets in London are accessible.
* All toilets at stations managed by Transport for London are free (although many of these are behind the ticket barriers). All London terminus stations such as London Liverpool Street and London Euston have free to use public toilets.
* Across London’s 32 boroughs (and the City of London) there is a big difference in the number of public toilets. Figures from the Great British Public Toilet Map show that Westminster leads the way with 176 whilst Hackney has just 18.
As part of our Out and About campaign we’ve launched London Loos – a call for better public toilet provision in the capital. London’s lack of toilets is a serious public health concern and it is already disadvantaged groups of Londoners such as those with health conditions requiring more frequent visits to the toilet that are most affected.
Social isolation – the ‘loo leash’
Everyone benefits from good and available public toilets but tackling social isolation is the key reason why we have launched the London Loos campaign. That’s because too many older Londoners currently avoid leaving their home as much as they would like because they are not confident they will be able to access a toilet if they need to.
One in five of us experience ‘the loo leash’ where we don’t leave our homes as much as we might like because we are anxious that we won’t be able to find a toilet when we need to. The same concern can mean we drink less than we should, which can lead to dehydration. Dehydration is associated with a higher risk of ill health in older people, from having an infection, a fall or being admitted to hospital. For those that can’t walk or wheel far or fast the lack of toilets can be more acute. Three quarters of the population say that there are not enough toilets in their area.
There are around 1,500 public toilets in London but that’s not enough for a city of more than eight million people. In some parts of London you can walk for 20 minutes or more to reach a toilet and often the provision is poorly maintained or made inaccessible through design or opening times. Increasing public toilet provision would reduce social isolation for thousands of older Londoners and is fundamental to London becoming an age-friendlier and therefore people-friendlier city.
London Loos Survey
From May to July 2022 almost 600 older Londoners told Age UK London what they thought about public toilet provision in the boroughs where they lived.
81 percent of Londoners say that public toilet provision in their borough is bad, with only three percent of people surveyed reporting that it is good. The survey also reveals that 9 in 10 Londoners (90%) sometimes, or always, consider whether there is a public toilet available before leaving home. The results of our survey have been published in the London Loos Paper which will be used to call for London Councils to provide more public conveniences.
The London Loos Paper
637 members of the public completed our London Loos survey from May to July 2022. 96% of respondents lived in London with all boroughs and the City of London represented. 93% of respondents were over the age of 50 and 86% over the age of 60. Read our London Loos Paper and our recommendations to London Council for the provision of adequate public conveniences.
In-Focus Briefing Papers
Along with our research we have produced three In-Focus Briefing Papers for local authorities and public health officials. The briefing papers cover toilet strategies, Community Toilet Schemes and planning, development and public information. You can read and download our papers here. If you require any further information contact email@example.com
London Loos In-Focus:
In April 2023, in partnership with London Councils, Age UK London held an event attended by representatives from 19 london local authorities to discuss solutions and ideas for improving toilt provision. Following the event a LinkedIn group was created to provide a platform for discussion and sharing of experiences, resources and knowledge. If you work with a Council and would like to become a group member visit here.
In London there were active Community Toilet Schemes in 11 boroughs as of May 2022. Community researcher Margit Physant has published a report that collates details of Community Toilet Schemes across London for the very first time. Read the report here.
5 areas for action
We would like to see:
1.Toilet maps (available on AND offline)
Transport For London increase awareness of their toilet map with a promotion strategy to reach more of London’s 1.5 million people over 60. Paper copies of the toilet map are available (this should include Underground stations).
2. Promoting successful Community Toilet Schemes
There are 14 Community Toilet Schemes in London. Many have been a great success but they don’t always have the impact hoped for. We would like to see Boroughs brought together to share best practice.
3. A strategic approach
Local Authorities produce an annual toilet strategy as part of their public health responsibilities covering public toilet provision across the community. Local Authorities assign a lead officer responsible for developing and monitoring toilet provision.
These two ‘asks’ are a key part of the Toilet Manifesto for London, which Age UK London is pleased to support.
4. Commercial developments
The Mayor to provide guidance to boroughs on how they can use London Plan Policy ‘S6 Public Toilets’ which, requires proposals for large-scale commercial developments open to the public to provide accessible toilets, and secure the future management of free publicly accessible toilets suitable for a range of users.
5. Supporting volunteers (Great British Public Toilets Map)
Wherever you are in the UK, you can find your nearest toilet using the Great British Public Toilets Map (GBPTM). The GBPTM is a great online resource with detailed information about public toilets, their location and what they are like, across London and the UK. The information is added by volunteers and throughout the campaign we will be raising awareness about becoming a toilet map volunteer.
Unsplash photo credit: Sung Jin Cho