Often when I post about the need for hoist assisted toilet, or when I contact businesses asking them to install one I am met with responses along the lines of:
“The council should be providing that”
“It’s not our responsibility to provide Changing Places toilets”
I get really wound up by these kind of responses so I thought I’d explain why I don’t believe the councils are the ones who should be footing the whole bill for these facilities.
We all know our government is in massive debt. We all know our councils are working to tight budgets and are making cuts wherever they possibly can. We know the only way they can spend more is to charge us more in taxes… and no one wants that!
So why exactly is everyone so sure that our council should be paying for these facilities? Do they think they have a secret hidden pot of money they’re saving for a rainy Changing Places day?
I am very much of the opinion that it is not entirely the responsibility of our local councils to provide these facilities, which is why I worked really hard to raise money to cover some of the costs of the Changing Places facility in Worthing. We can’t rely solely on our councils to cover the full costs when we are living in a time where budgets are being slashed across the country.
I do think every town should have at least one full size public funded 12m2 Changing Places toilet complete with a shower etc. But I personally think it is crazy to expect our council to cover the full costs of that and we should expect to add funds from grants, fundraising or sponsorship.
But I also believe that it is the responsibility of local large businesses to provide toilets that are suitable for all of their customers too, whether that is a Changing Places toilet, a Space to Change facility or simply the addition of a hoist and changing table in their existing disabled toilets.
This would ensure that all towns have a number of fully accessible toilets and we don’t have to rely on one suitable toilet for those that need it – imagine if there was only one suitable toilet for able bodied people and it was at the other end of the town, and it was raining and when you get there it’s broken?! That’s why it’s crazy to think one is enough for each town!
Most towns have at least one large department store, maybe Debenhams, John Lewis, M&S, they may also have a Cinema and a bowling alley. There might be a big garden centre with a restaurant or a big supermarket.. all of these large buildings should have a fully accessible toilet with a hoist and adult sized changing table, so there is always one nearby and if that is out of order you don’t have far to go to find another.
These businesses have the money to cover the costs of these facilities, John Lewis for example recorded pre-tax profits of £305.5million so I think it’s fair to say they can afford for their 46 stores to have a hoist and adult sized changing table installed which would cost less than 1% of that figure!
There is also no issue with space in many of these large buildings (we’ve all seen the wasted space in the Cineworld cinema foyers) and many have large disabled toilets anyway which could easily accommodate the additional equipment.
These businesses want us to visit their stores and they benefit from providing us with facilities which enable us to stay there longer. The purple pound is worth £80billion and it isn’t just disabled customers who spend, its the parents, carers and friends that join them too!
M&S recorded 20.1million customers last year – but if they provided better toilet facilities up to 5 million people/customers would benefit from them and might stay in their stores longer.
Our councils have nothing to gain from providing these facilities, they bring them no profit at all. They create more work as they need cleaning and maintaining and often, as these facilities are provided in public toilet blocks, they are open to vandalism, which then creates more work and adds more cost.
Retailers however, have everything to gain, they gain our custom, we spend longer in their stores and therefore we spend more money. If that wasn’t the case they wouldn’t see the value in providing so many toilets for able bodied customers.
Their toilets are inside their stores and are looked after by their existing staff during the day anyway so no extra staff are needed. They are less likely to be vandalised as they have security staff in store and during their closed periods they have security systems in place to protect the store as a whole.
Yet right now not a single UK retailer has realised the value in providing these facilities in all their stores. They seem blinded to the facts that customers are leaving their stores because of the lack of suitable toilet facilities. They are ignoring the fact that disabled children are being changed on their toilet floors every day and they are living in the naive hope that no one gets injured during a manual transfer within their store and ends up suing them. In fact some stores seem to think that providing this vital equipment is more of a health and safety risk than not doing so, which seems a pretty uneducated guess when you consider how many hoists are provided for disabled people within their homes to avoid injury to them or the people caring for them.
Cineworld cinemas told me they would be adding information to their website showing where the closest hoist assisted toilets were for each branch. That was back in May but 4 months later the information is still not there, probably because they’ve realised how bad it makes their facilities look when the closest suitable toilet is miles away from their cinema!
I truely believe the only time a retailer can claim it is up to someone else to provide these facilities is when they are based within a mall which provides other toilets. In those instances I think it is fair to say they are not responsible for providing them but I think they are fully responsible for putting pressure on the landlord to ensure they are provided as part of the shopping centre.
Existing legislation doesn’t seem to put enough pressure on retailers to provide toilets suitable for all customers though, regardless of the Equality Act 2010 being there to prevent disabled people being treated less favourably than non disabled people. Until someone takes a retailer to court to test the law this is never going to change.
So it really is time the law was changed to ensure that these large businesses take their responsibilities seriously and provide suitable facilities for their community not only to boost their own profits but also to ensure that everyone in that local community is able to live a full life without the barriers that come from having no suitable toilet nearby.
I am not for one minute suggesting small businesses should provide these facilities, that would be entirely unreasonable. But I do think that all public buildings over a certain size, or with an expected daily footfall over a set figure should be required to and I think our MP’s and local councils should be pushing for changes in legislation to ensure this happens and our councils are not the ones carrying the financial burden of these essential facilities.
I love to read your comments so please let me know what you think!