(photo: Inti Tupac)
23.07.2021, 12:05

Addressing the UK's Public Toilets Crisis

Health, Safety, Security & Environment, United Kingdom, Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Raymond Martin, managing director of the British Toilet Association (BTA), explains why his organisation is calling for more government funding and legislation following findings of an ‘appalling’ lack of public toilet provision.


Public toilets are rapidly vanishing, with many that remain displaying totally unacceptable levels of cleanliness and hygiene, and the Covid-19 pandemic making the situation worse.


Many public toilets have been locked down since the start of the pandemic due to a lack of cleaning, funding or any government guidance on how to get them fit for purpose.  


The public are therefore being forced to go to the toilet in streets, on beaches, in open spaces and even in beauty spots, causing street fouling figures to escalate, aggravating the risk of Covid-19 transmission and leaving the local authorities to foot considerable clean-up costs.


With no legal requirement in place to force local authorities to provide or run public toilets, the BTA believes the majority of councils across the United Kingdom do not allocate sufficient resources or funds to the provision of public toilets.


It is therefore calling for the government to make sanitation and hygiene a major priority and support local authorities to stop the closures, open new facilities and establish a new set of standards of hygiene and cleanliness.


The Covid-19 pandemic

The BTA has been lobbying for action since the pandemic began, asking questions of Ministers and the Prime Minister, writing to Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, and has participated in a Zoom meeting with Lord Stephen Greenhalgh, the Minister for Building Safety and Communities and other Members of the House of Lords - but without an adequate response.


The organisation is currently preparing to write again to Lord Greenhalgh and also to the new Health Secretary, the Rt Hon Sajid Javid. 


As a not-for-profit organisation which campaigns for the highest possible standards of hygiene and provision in all “away from home” toilet facilities across the UK, we understands that over a third of the population need to visit a toilet on an urgent basis, often at very short notice.


We are appalled at the total lack of funding over many years and extremely concerned at the closures and unprecedented low levels of public toilet facilities before, during and going into the future. This is now a crisis.


Across our beautiful country, that was once the envy of the world because of its sanitation systems and hygiene controls, those responsible have allowed us to fall so far from the standards our forefathers achieved.


Then along comes one of the deadliest pathogens for many generations and unbelievably our ministers and their Government colleagues cannot see the need or make available any primary funding to tackle and fight this continuing threat to our nation’s daily existence.


From the very first announcement of the arrival of Covid-19 the government has been repeatedly telling everyone to “wash your hands” but how much money has it allocated, spent or even committed to increasing sanitation and hygiene during a pandemic?  The answer is nothing.


Hand washing materials cost money, hot water costs money, cleaning materials and staff cost have to be factored in, as well as the return to an acceptable level of provision.


The lack of public toilet provision leaves families with young children, business travellers, drivers delivering our daily essentials across the country, staycationers, day-trippers those on longer holiday breaks, older persons wanting to visit family and many more people wondering when they might find relief.


Covid is transmitted in human excrement and urine so forcing the public to use our open spaces to go to the toilet can only be a recipe for continued or increased transmission and incubation of this most deadly pathogen and any future variants.


Anyone suffering with an accessibility issue or those caring for someone who has limited mobility or a medical condition is socially excluded and potentially deemed prisoners in their own homes.

The retail environment and accessibility

Footfall in shops and many high streets continues to remain low as the lack of decent toilet facilities is driving shoppers away to out of town superstores, leaving the villages and town shops with diminishing revenues and the constant threat of closure.


The BTA has spent the last eighteen months primarily firefighting the lack of publicly accessible toilets across the UK but with very limited success without the support of this Government.


It’s about time the current government made sanitation and hygiene a major priority and supported local authorities by halting the closure of public toilets.

Restoring standards and tackling the pandemic by ensuring there is sufficient toilet provision in our public buildings and spaces must surely be key priorities.

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