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Lack of public toilets in Wales leaving older people feeling ‘trapped’ in their homes

A toilet
Photo: Cwmbran Life

The Older People’s Commissioner for Wales feels the lack of public toilets will leave many older people feeling “trapped” during the bank holiday weekend.

Heléna Herklots CBE has highlighted that others may be risking their health by dehydrating themselves to reduce the need to use the toilet. Recent research found that two-thirds of people aged 60 and over in Wales find it difficult to access public toilets. The same survey revealed that the lack of facilities leaves some people, particularly those with conditions that cause more frequent toilet use, to choose to stay home instead of going out.

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.

She 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.

Gareth Parsons, chair of the Wales Seniors Forum (WSF), 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 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.”

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Lack of public toilets in Wales leaving older people feeling ‘trapped’ in their homes