Lack of public toilets will leave many older people in Wales feeling excluded and ‘trapped’ during the bank holiday weekend, says Commissioner
The Commissioner has highlighted that a lack of public toilets will leave many older people in Wales feeling excluded this bank holiday, and that others may be risking their health by dehydrating themselves to reduce the need to use the toilet.
For many of us, the August bank holiday will provide a chance to get out and about, go visiting or take part in activities with family and friends.
But doing these kinds of things can be difficult or even impossible for many older people due to a lack of public toilets, which almost two-thirds of people aged 60+ in Wales find difficult to access, according to the findings of a survey undertaken by the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales.1
Research2 shows that concerns about accessing public toilets can act as a so-called ‘loo leash’ that discourages people from leaving their homes, particularly those with conditions that cause more frequent toilet use, which are more likely to affect us as we get older.
Of even greater concern is the fact that older people may also be putting their health at risk due to a lack of public toilets, with research also suggesting that over half of people deliberately dehydrate themselves to reduce the need to use the toilet.3
This can create a range of health issues, including reduced coordination, increasing the risk of a trip or fall, and reduced short-term memory and cognitive performance. In addition, restricting fluid intake can also increase the risk of (or exacerbate) conditions such as kidney stones or cystitis.
The Commissioner says that actions from local authorities – such as working with local businesses to expand public toilet provision and improving the information about public toilets in the area and ensuring this is available to older people in non-digital formats – could bring significant benefits at very little cost.
Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, Heléna Herklots CBE, said:
“The discomfort of needing the toilet but being unable to find one is something we’ve all experienced, and the findings of my survey highlight just how much of an issue this can be for older people in Wales.
“Older people regularly tell me that a lack of public toilets in their area can discourage or even prevent them from getting out and about and doing the things that matter to them, leaving people feeling excluded and ‘trapped’ in their homes, something reflected in wider research.
“This means that getting out and about to enjoy the bank holiday with family and friends will simply not be an option for many older people.
“Even more importantly, a lack of public toilets can have a significant impact upon older people’s health, affecting a range of medical conditions and in many cases forcing people to put their health at risk by deliberately dehydrating themselves to avoid the need to use the toilet.
“That’s why it’s crucial that local authorities explore the ways they could increase the availability of public toilets in their areas, such as through working with local businesses, as well as improving information for older people about public toilets in their communities, ensuring this is available to people who are not online.
“We also need to see longer-term strategic action at a national level to improve public toilet provision, which has plummeted in recent years, recognising the vital role public toilets play in terms of public health, and in supporting all of us to age well.”
The Commissioner’s concerns are shared by the Wales Seniors Forum, which recently launched its ‘P is for People’ campaign4, asking older people to share their experiences of accessing public toilets and their views on the change needed.
Wales Seniors Forum Chair, Gareth Parsons, said:
“WSF has had a survey running over the last couple of months which is now drawing to a close and we’ll be sharing the opinions gathered in September. The encouragement of the Older People’s Commissioner has been a help in our endeavours.
“The Wales Senate of Older People, who were one of the forerunners of WSF first did the exercise over ten years ago and although the aim of getting Wales.gov to commit all their Local Authorities to produce their own toilet strategies has been carried through, very little change has been evident.
“The closure of most of the department stores and their facilities has left many pensioners unwilling to visit town centres as they used to. There is a National Toilets map but it’s online only which further isolates the digitally excluded, this is more than half of the pensioners in Wales.”
For all media enquiries, please contact Richard Jones: firstname.lastname@example.org // 07515 288271
For more information about the Commissioner’s role and work, visit: www.olderpeople.wales
Notes to Editors
1 A total of 503 interviews were conducted with a representative sample of the Welsh population aged 60+ years. All interviews were conducted by telephone using CATI (Computer Aided Telephone Interviewing) technology between 28 February and 17 March 2023.
Participants were asked: “In your local neighbourhood, how easy or difficult is it for you to access public toilets?” A total of 23% said it was ‘easy’, while 61% said it was ‘difficult’.
2 Taking the P***: The Decline of the Great British Public Toilet, Royal Society of Public Health, 2019: https://www.rsph.org.uk/static/uploaded/459f4802-ae43-40b8-b5a006f6ead373e6.pdf
3 As above
4 More information about the Wales Seniors Forum’s P is for People Campaign is available here: https://walesseniorsforum.co.uk/Share your experiences of accessing public toilets