Lack of toilet access

Photo description: A toilet lock with the word ‘closed’ on it in red, where ‘engaged’ is usually written

Some feel that having access to a toilet whilst you are out and about is a privilege; others feel like it’s a basic human right. 

There are many reasons why somebody may need a toilet whilst they are out. Many will simply hold it in until they get home, others will choose to try to find a toilet to use. Some, sadly, are unable to hold it until they got home. 

The reasons for this are endless, but they include health conditions that effect the bladder and those who are sleeping ruff and don’t have a place to call home. 

Public toilets across the UK have been closing left, right and centre. The Royal Society for Public Health wrote a report about the decline of publicly run toilets. Sadly, over the years, these toilets have either been outsourced to private companies or closed all together. 

With this report covering so many important facts and statistics, it is difficult to sum it up in a short blog. 

The list of key points mentions that the decline in public toilets “is a threat to health, mobility, and equality” with 20% being deterred from going out, which rises to 43% amongst those with health conditions which makes them need the toilet more frequently. I can vouch for the 20%. 

The report speaks about how many, especially woman, don’t use public toilets for a variety of reasons, including there being no toilet paper, that they are often unclean and that they smell bad. 

Alongside these, my other reason for not using public toilets is the fact that there aren’t any. At the bottom of this blog I have written about what motivated me to write this blog where I go into more depth about what happened but, in short, I once decided to use a public toilet. I drove 15 minutes to the junction to where it apparently was and it was nowhere to be seen. 

Between 2006 and 2016, at least 1,782 public toilet facilities closed in the UK and there will have been many closures in the years since. 

This means that individuals like myself rely on businesses to provide toilets. The problem is, many take away businesses don’t have public toilets and restaurants with toilets typically limit them to customers only. 

56% report restricting the amount they drink before going out to avoid the risk of needing to find a toilet whilst they’re out, which can have a negative effect to ones physical health but also their mental health. I for one struggle with this, with me constantly questioning if I should have a drink for the one and only reason of the doubt of whether I’ll be able to find a toilet if I need one. 

Whether or not I know there is a toilet in a certain area could change my entire plans on where I go or what I do. 

The hardest part about COVID for me has been the lack of toilet access. Now, more than ever, we as a society need to look at the situation surrounding the lack of toilets to help tackle it. 

My experiences 

One of my few memories as a child is that of English class in year 6. Due to my poor grades, I was receiving extra support in the classroom, alongside half a dozen other students. The teacher who was providing this support had a rule that you couldn’t use the toilet in lessons. This meant that if I ever needed the toilet, I was denied. I remember one occasion where I asked the main teacher instead and was allowed to go, but the support teacher told me off afterwards.

This experience didn’t just happen in primary school. In secondary school, I remember a similar occasion. I asked the teacher if I could go to the toilet. They did ask if I was desperate or if I could wait until the end of class. Had I been desperate I’m sure they would’ve let me but I wasn’t, so I said I could wait until the end of class. The problem, which is the reason I asked to go during class, was the fact that my next lesson was right next door. This meant that if I used the exit everyone used to exit the classroom, the teacher would see me; if I used the other exit, I would be a few minutes late to class and get told off. 

I decided to use the exit everybody else used and the teacher was there before we even left the classroom. When I asked her, she said that I should’ve gone before class.

I remember I was left speechless. I didn’t know what to say. Thankfully, somebody in my class stepped in and said that I did ask in the previous lesson and I was allowed to go. 

There is a problem in schools of students going to the toilet during lessons because they either intentionally didn’t go during their break or they are doing it just to skip lessons. For me though, neither were the case. In my 15 years in school, I have maximum 2 times went to the bathroom with the sole intention of skiving off class for a few minutes. Every time I asked to go to the bathroom, I genuinely needed it. If I needed the toilet during lessons, my concentration levels would drop. Rather than focusing on what the teacher was saying or the work I was meant to be doing, I would be constantly thinking “I need the toilet”. 

The problem has sadly persisted as an adult. Ever since I was 15 years old, I am out for 14+ hours a day. What I am doing all day depends on a variety of factors. The problem regarding toilets hasn’t changed. 

From February 2020 to April 2021, I was a food delivery driver. On a motorbike, I would deliver food from restaurants to customers houses. 

Despite legislation from Health and Safety Executive (HSE) saying that couriers have the right to use the staff toilets when doing deliveries to/from a business, this isn’t put into practice. 

Pre-COVID, very few restaurant allowed us to use their staff toilets (I’ve only found one that allows us). Even for those that do allow us, there is an assumption they won’t allow us, so we don’t ask. The issue is, most restaurants I was delivering from in Central London had no public toilets; that or they closed them at night time, which is when I worked. Thankfully, there was never a McDonald’s far away so I knew, worst comes to the worst, I can go offline and drive to the closest McDonald’s. Whilst there are problems with McDonald’s, which I speak about further down, they are a life saver most of the time. 

On 22 March 2020, 4 days before the first COVID lockdown hit, McDonald’s closed their doors. It was like the rug had been pulled from under me. Not only was McDonald’s one of the only places that I could go to the toilet, they were also a large portion of my income; due to being paid per delivery as opposed to per hour. 

Because of this, I decided to stick to one area, where I know there are 2 toilets; 1 in a restaurant and one in a cafe- both of whom do deliveries. To my horror, both shut their toilets to drivers. 

On two occasions whilst working I ended up going to local A&Es to see if I was allowed to use the toilet. Whilst this wasn’t a smart move due to COVID, I felt I had no choice. On the first occasion I was allowed but on the second, I was sadly denied. This led me to have only one other option; bushes. 

Throughout the pandemic, I ended up having to use bushes but sadly this is far from ideal. I felt I had no choice but to work night shifts, where the amount of pay can fluctuate. It is also colder at night and, due to COVID, we can be left waiting outside for 2 hours for work. Whilst this made it easier in the toilet department, it was still difficult. I don’t feel safe going into parks late at night but, if I’m on the outskirts of the park (e.g. a bush near the entrance) I fear being seen by someone in a neighbouring house or flat, especially in Central London where there’s many high rise flats. 

This led me to working less and had a strain on my mental health. All my energy was spent going to work and I didn’t do anything outside of work. 

Mcdonalds re-opened for deliveries on the 3rd of June. I’m unable to remember what the work situation was like from the 3rd of June until September but, in September, things went downhill again. On September 22nd, Boris Johnson announced that there was a 10pm curfew for the hospitality sector. This meant that eating inside of restaurants had to close at 10pm, but deliveries could still be 24 hours. Mcdonalds ended up closing their toilets at 10pm. The only other place locally who have toilets was a petrol station, who I also regularly picked up deliveries from. For safety reasons, despite their deliveries being 24/7, they closed their doors at 10pm. At night, we would pick up our orders at a window, meaning toilet access wasn’t allowed. 

On the 5th of November, a second lockdown hit. This led to Mcdoanlds closing their toilets all day. 

Mcdonalds have never been perfect. I have done tens of deliveries from 3 different Mcdonalds that, even pre-COVID, they close their toilets at night, despite deliveries being 24/7. This is because we pick up our deliveries on the drive thru, so we don’t enter the premises. There is also a Mcdonalds I used deliver from where they only had staff toilets (which we weren’t allowed to use). 

On November 8th, I decided to contact Unite the Union, who wrote a piece in June 2020 about delivery drivers being denied toilet access. I had previously spoken to my union about the issue but sadly nothing came of it. 

Unite the Union, on the other hand, were the game changer. Due to having many HGV and bus drivers in their union, who have also been badly effected by the lack of toilet access, they were doing a campaign on it. The gentleman I spoke to from Unite got me in contact with a Guardian journalist who, with my help, wrote a piece on the situation of toilet access for delivery drivers like myself. Within minutes, Mcdonalds wrote an apology in the BBC newspaper and sent all their stores new guidelines regarding toilet access. 

Whilst this was great, it did take some stores months to catch on, with me having to chase the managers of 2 stores to make them aware of the change of procedures. These guidelines though didn’t fix the problem with the 3 stores mentioned above, where toilet access is still denied. 

My prompt to writing this blog is due to what happened to me a few weeks ago, on Thursday 10th June. 

I am currently a customer in a cafe, where I sit and do work on my laptop. They close their toilets at 6:30pm and they close their doors ay 7pm. I went to the toilet at 6:30 and proceeded to leave around 6:45. 

I did a 15 minute journey on the bus and decided to stop by a fast food restaurant to get something to eat. I purchased some food and a drink and sat down. After around 30 minutes of being there, I asked a staff member what time they shut their toilets, so that I am able to go before leaving. Sadly I was informed that, due to a plumbing issue, the toilets were out of service. I left soon after and found a small fast food business who had a customer toilet. I went in and asked, if I paid, could I use the bathroom. I was told no, as it’s only for customers. Even after I said, for the second time, that I was happy to pay, I was sadly denied. This left me frustrated and slightly worried as I needed the toilet and had a long journey home. By luck, I found another business who were more than friendly and didn’t even want to accept my £1 (I insisted they keep it). 

I proceeded with my day and the next time I had access to a toilet was when I got home around an hour and a half later. 

In the report written by The Royal Society for Public Health, it was found that 71% of woman and 41% of men have never used a back alley or bush as a toilet, with 16% reporting that they frequently use bushes/alleyways to go toilet. Sadly, with my experiences mentioned above, I became one of those 16%.

I am currently running a go fund me to assist with some financial difficulties. If you are able to share the link (and donate if you have some money spare) that would be hugely appreciated 

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