Public toilets don’t have the best of reputations, often due to poor levels of cleanliness or misuse of the facilities. However, for many people, having sufficient numbers of public toilets available is absolutely essential. Although most of us can hold on until we’re home or at our destination, for those with certain medical conditions and disabilities this simply isn’t an option. Because of this, a lack of public facilities can have unpleasant consequences on many lives.
Why Have Public Toilets Been Reduced in Number?
The number of public toilets in UK towns and cities has taken a noticeable drop in recent years and the ones that do remain often charge you to use them. Many of these facilities have been sold off by councils and turned into a whole manner of different things. Restaurants, micropubs, and studios are just a few of the ways the space has been recommissioned.
This selling off of this space gives a big clue as to why the numbers of public toilets has dropped so dramatically; cost. Councils have decided that the price of maintaining them in an acceptable condition simply doesn’t match up with their bottom line. Although this frees up funds for other areas, it can completely strip a local community of essential hygiene facilities. This inevitably has consequences.
The Anxiety of Not Making It
For individuals who suffer from a condition that effects their digestive system the security of being able to find a toilet as and when is hugely important. Conditions such as; incontinence, colostomy bags, diverticulitis, and many others can result in a sudden need to use the toilet and failure to find one can be an unpleasant situation.
By stripping town centres of the facilities that these people may require at short notice the consequences can go beyond simply not finding a toilet in time. The anxiety of not being able to find somewhere could result in an individual isolating themselves socially, as they don’t want to put themselves in a situation that could embarrasses them. This lack of social interaction could have a knock-on effect on the persons mood and overall mental wellbeing, let alone their physical condition.
Additionally, by forcing a person to hold the urge to use the toilet when they may not be physically capable of doing so could end in medical complications. Pain or inflammation of a condition is one potential outcome, but in instances where a person uses a colostomy bag and not being able to empty it could result in leaking or damage to the equipment. This can then end up in what was an avoidable hospital visit.
Are There Any Solutions?
The obvious solution would be for councils to reopen and refurbish existing public toilets, but with the continued selling off of facilities and likely budgetary restrictions this seems unlikely. However, there are initiatives being taken by others to help those who may need to use a public toilet due to illness or disability.
There are initiatives such as community toilet schemes that businesses partake in – either voluntarily or for a small financial bursary – that allow people to use their toilets. This has the benefit of both increasing the number or loos and also saving the council funds. There are also examples of technology being used to help, such as the Toilet Finder app that shows the location of available facilities.
These are all great examples of how communities can work together to solve a local problem, but it’s still up for debate if they can make up for the dramatic cut in council provided toilets.