Lancashire backs 'the freedom to pee and poo' in push for increased toilet availablity
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The “Just Can’t Wait” initiative provides sufferers with a card which is recognised by a range of businesses and organisations – and gives those carrying it access to facilities that are usually closed to the general public.
Lancashire County Council has now committed to making its own public buildings – wherever practical – accessible to anyone who produces the card and asks to use the toilet.
The authority will also ensure signage is in place advertising that fact, so card carriers can be assured of a sympathetic response. Council staff will also be trained so that they are aware of the need to open toilets “quickly and without question”, a meeting of the full council was told.
Most of the county’s libraries – which are currently acting as warm hubs for people looking to escape the cold this winter – already have toilets available, as do all of Lancashire’s transport hubs. The presence of publicly-accessible loos in museums and some council depots will also shortly be promoted.
Meanwhile, Lancashire’s district councils and businesses will also be encouraged to recognise the Just Can’t Wait card.
The moves come after a call from Labour opposition group leader Azhar Ali for the county council to support and raise awareness of the scheme.
That was prompted by the experience of an anti-fracking demonstrator at the authority’s own County Hall headquarters in Preston ahead of a council meeting in October. The individual was initially refused use of staff toilets in spite of presenting their card.
Skerton division representative Jean Parr intervened and ensured that the panic-stricken protestor was able to access the facilities that they were in such desperate need of.
County Cllr Parr stressed that she was not criticising reception staff at County Hall, whom she said had obviously just not been made aware of the card system.
However, she added that the “freedom to pee [and the] freedom to poo” were basic human needs that should be facilitated for those who got little notice of when they might need to do either or both.
“For a surprisingly large number of people, [the] early warning of their toileting needs is a luxury they simply don’t possess. Whether they have a health condition or are undergoing intensive treatment such as chemotherapy, these people only know that when they need a loo, they need it now,” the Labour politician said.
Her Lancaster East colleague Lizzi Collinge said that every woman who had ever been pregnant knew what it was like to have to be “mapping out every single public toilet” before leaving home. But she added that those with health issues that required urgent toilet access were being “actively disabled, once again, by the environment we live in”.
“The current situation where people are sometimes not leaving their homes – where people’s lives are restricted simply for want of a toilet – is just really unacceptable,” County Cllr Collinge said.
The Labour notice of motion – which County Cllr Ali said was all the more important in the wake of dwindling numbers of public toilets - won cross-party support. It was tweaked by the ruling Tory group to ensure that the issue was further explored by one of the county council’s scrutiny committees and also raised at a future meeting of all of Lancashire’s local authority leaders.
Cabinet member for health and wellbeing Michael Green said: “The fear of incontinence is a real issue for many residents and that fear of being unable to locate a toilet can have a significant impact upon mental wellbeing and can lead, ultimately, to social isolation, through people choosing not to leave their homes.”
He added that in recognising the Just Can’t Wait card across the county council’s estate the county council would nevertheless have to be “mindful” of the security of individual buildings.
Around 170,000 people carry the Just Can’t Wait card nationwide, while it is estimated that there are over 14 million people in the UK who are living with a bladder condition and 6.4 million who have a bowel problem.
County Cllr Kim Snape, who represents Chorley Rural East, welcomed the council resolution, but urged the authority to stipulate specific timescales for action after a similar motion on which she worked with the now Police and Crime Commissioner, Andrew Snowden, back in 2019 yielded no concrete results.
The then Hoghton with Wheelton county councillor had called for wider recognition of the Just Can’t Wait card and better access to information about toilet locations and their availability after seeing his own wife’s struggles with Crohn’s disease.
Speaking after the latest meeting, Lancashire County Council’s director of public health, Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, said: “Crohn’s disease, colitis, bladder disorders and other conditions which mean people may need to use the toilet very urgently can be debilitating.
“Making more public toilets available is crucial and I’m pleased the county council is supporting the initiative. We will now work on plans for the scheme’s introduction across our buildings.”
To apply for a Just Can’t Wait card, visit bbuk.org.uk/just-cant-wait-cards