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.
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.
Did you know?
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.
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.
Take Action: TFL’s toilet map
Transport for London have created a map of toilets in their Underground and rail network. This is fantastic. At the moment this is primarily only available online and many people who would benefit the most don’t know the map exists. Support our call for more paper copies of the map to be made available and for promotion of the map to reach more older Londoners.
Sources for statistics and other useful links:
Taking the P***: The decline of the Great British public toilet, Royal Society of Public Health
The Toilet Manifesto for London (An initiative led by Kilburn Older Voices Exchange and Positive Ageing in London, supported by Age UK London)
Great British Public Toilet Map
Transport For London – Toilets Tube Map
‘Loos for London’, a Twitter account
Dying to spend a penny – A survey of public conveniences within the Royal Borough of Greenwich (RBG), Jane Hopkins, 2020
The public loo map. Research and article by Victorian Plumbing