Accessible Toilet Availability

– in Westminster Hall at 4:25 pm on 21st October 2015.

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Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Defence) 4:25 pm, 21st October 2015

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered accessible toilet availability for disabled adults and children.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries, and to have the opportunity to discuss the thorny issue of accessible toilets for disabled or incontinent adults and older children in general, as well as the Changing Places campaign in particular. I will take this opportunity to explain a little about what that campaign is all about and reflect on why it is needed, as well as on the tremendous, world-leading success we have already in Britain. I will discuss how it fits into a broader strategy on accessible tourism and its untapped economic potential, and then make a specific request for the Government to consider.

I was grateful to learn that today’s debate would be a good while after people had eaten their lunch. This is not the most edifying of subjects, but perhaps it is appropriate that we should all feel a little uncomfortable while considering the daily indignities that incontinent adults and children, and their parents and carers, are forced to suffer.

I pay particular tribute to Jane Carver and Gillian Scotford, campaigners from my constituency who are doing tremendous work to raise the profile of accessible tourism and of Changing Places toilets. I will discuss that in more detail later. I also acknowledge the work of Mencap in campaigning for an increase in the number of Changing Places toilets, and the work of the British Toilet Association and the wider Changing Places consortium, which includes the Centre for the Accessible Environment and PAMIS—the Profound and Multiple Impairment Service.

This agenda is important not just because of human dignity but because of the huge strain that is put on the families of disabled older children and young adults. We should all be aware of the many challenges they face. Parents of disabled children are more likely to separate or divorce than the average. They live in an era when the support that was once there for families through embattled social services departments has shrunk, and respite care is scarce. On top of all those challenges, the parents of disabled or incontinent children face the additional weekly strain on the rest of their families of having a child who demands more attention than other children, with all the pressure that will bring.

Families with incontinent children have to organise all family outings around being able to have access to a toilet every two hours or so. It is impossible to overestimate the extent to which consideration of access to toilets is a dominant factor for someone with an incontinent child or adult in their family unit. Before every outing, those families have to consider how long they will be able to go until they need to change their loved one, and what the facilities will be like when they are out. Barely a single family affected will have avoided the experience of changing an adult or large child on a dirty toilet floor. Having to lie on a toilet floor as an adult or large child, being changed like a baby, is unimaginable for most of us, yet that is what life was routinely like for those families before Changing Places toilets.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Equality)

This is a delicate but important issue. Although we are in a time of financial restraint—we are all aware of that, across the whole of the United Kingdom—does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is important that people with physical disabilities are not disadvantaged, however that may be, by financial restraints, and that the Government must be committed to delivering services for them across the whole country? It is important that we do not let those services disappear into the ether of financial restraints.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Defence)

I agree entirely—that is precisely why I wanted to have the debate. We can and will have broader discussions in the House and in the other place about the extent to which the Government fulfil the test the hon. Gentleman has set. In that regard, delivering those services is vital. I intend to make the case today that not only do we have a moral obligation to get this right, but there are arguments that doing so is in Britain’s economic interests.

Before there were Changing Places toilets, families were routinely forced to face the circumstances that I described, and, to expand on the point I was just making, child health experts have also spoken about the impact of inadequate toileting provision, with children or adults presenting with infections, skin disorders and mental health problems linked to urinal and faecal incontinence. We should be in no doubt that there is a significant cost to the Government, through increased healthcare costs, in continuing to fail these people and their families.

Changing Places criteria mean that toilet buildings are designed to have more room for equipment for people with multiple disabilities or people who need help to use the toilet. Each Changing Places toilet has a height-adjustable, adult-sized changing bench and a ceiling hoist and has enough space for a disabled person and two carers. Each is a safe and clean environment that includes a large bin and a non-slip floor. Changing Places toilets are utilised by and would make a difference to around 250,000 people in the UK. However, if we consider the impact that the lack of those facilities has on their family members, around 1 million people are affected.

Photo of Nicholas Dakin Nicholas Dakin Shadow Minister (Education)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important short debate, which focuses on this key issue. I join him in congratulating those campaigners, such as Lorna Fillingham in my constituency, for the work that they have done to support the Changing Places campaign, which is so important.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Defence)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to give credit to those organisations and individuals, many of whom have fought very bravely for that. The Changing Places consortium, which I mentioned, involving PAMIS and a number of organisations coming together to work collectively, has made a really powerful case, which is why we have we have seen the progress that we have.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Public Services and Education)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for allowing this intervention, and I congratulate him on securing this debate, but I would like to take this opportunity to share some sad news. Loretto Lambe, the founder of PAMIS, sadly passed away at the weekend, following a long illness.

The disabled community will know of Loretto’s passionate and tireless campaigning for disability rights. Although Loretto officially retired last summer, it is to her great credit that she continued her work right up to the end of her life. I am sure the House will join me in paying tribute to Loretto’s work and in passing on our condolences to Loretto’s husband, James, and her family.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Defence)

I am very glad that the hon. Lady was able to pay that tribute. She is absolutely right to say that the contribution that Loretto made is gratefully reflected on by people right across the country, and we all mourn her passing.

Let me remind the House of the number of people affected: there are 250,000 such people in the UK, and if we take into account their family members, too, that number rises to 1 million people. There also around 900,000 children—most of whom would not be included in the original figures—who are diagnosed as having continence problems, many of whom would not be considered disabled, but none the less require appropriate space for changing. What those numbers tell us, apart from simply the scale of the problem and the health-related cost implications, is the huge potential tourism market available to venues that are accessible to disabled people—not to mention the moral obligation that we have as a civilised society to disabled people and their families. The case for having Changing Places toilet provision as widely available as possible is utterly compelling.

Before I go on to talk about what more can be done to further the case for Changing Places toilet provision, it is worth reflecting for a moment on the successes that campaigners have already achieved in Britain.

Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Health)

I briefly mention that even ordinary toilets are under threat within local government areas. With an ageing population and more people with stomas and other problems of urinary or faecal support, I think the numbers that would be affected by high-quality toilets are even greater.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Defence)

The hon. Lady makes an incredibly important point. The impact of local authority budget cuts on this and a huge number of other areas is something we return to time and again within the political arena. I thank her for making that point.

As I was saying, it is worth reflecting for a moment on the successes. Britain leads the world in provision of this sort; in no other country is the scale of provision of this kind of facility as advanced as it is here. The Prime Minister spoke today of the pride that we should feel in what we do for disabled people in this country. Although in some areas, that is questionable, huge strides have been made in our country, with legislative victories such as the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and subsequently the Equality Act 2010. The progress on Changing Places means that we can justifiably argue that Britain is the leading disability-friendly holiday destination in the world.

We now have 770 Changing Places toilets in Britain, including 18 in Derbyshire. I would like to take a moment to highlight the work of Accessible Derbyshire, a ground-breaking charity with a mission to make Derbyshire the most disability-friendly county in Britain. It works with local tourist hotspots to advise them on what more they can do to make their offer more accessible and it promotes those organisations on its website, which means that any families with disabled people can learn more about what Derbyshire has to offer.

In Derbyshire, we are of course spoilt for great tourist destinations, from the world-famous Crooked Spire church in Chesterfield—where, among other things, I was married—to Chatsworth house, which is one of the most visited tourist destinations outside London. We have other great country houses like Hardwick hall and Bolsover castle, and, of course, the majesty of the Peak district on our doorsteps. However, even a county not so naturally blessed as we are in Derbyshire must be able to see the huge potential that exists.

The more arithmetically talented Members will have observed that with 770 different Changing Places toilets, there is an average of just over one toilet per parliamentary constituency. I am proud to say that in Chesterfield we have four Changing Places toilets—at the Queen’s Park sports centre, the Chesterfield Royal hospital, the new Chesterfield market hall and the Proact stadium, home to Chesterfield FC. Chesterfield football club may not currently be topping the league one table, but they are one of just six football clubs—alongside Arsenal, Liverpool, Brighton and Hove Albion, Tranmere Rovers and Preston North End—to have Changing Places toilets at their grounds, and Chesterfield’s community hub is an exemplar in catering for disabled football fans. There is positive progress, therefore, but just imagine for a moment that I was standing here saying that there was only one public toilet in a constituency. There would be an outcry, yet practically, for some of our citizens, that is precisely the case.

I come to what can be done. In part M of the Building Regulations 2010, section 5.6 states:

“In large building developments, separate facilities for baby changing and an enlarged unisex toilet incorporating an adult changing table are desirable.”

I would like to see Changing Places toilet provision move to being mandatory in all new large public buildings, rather than desirable as it is today. The cost of a Changing Places toilet is on average around £12,000 to £15,000, and it seems to me incongruous that in an era when we have the Equality Act, which is designed to ensure that disabled people are able to live in a fair and equal society, we can tolerate a situation where 1 million people have their choices so restricted by access to something as basic as toileting.

I would also like the Government, through the Minister’s Department, to make available grant funding to support new and existing building developers to install Changing Places toilets. It would not necessarily need to cover all the cost, but I feel that any support would enable more installations to happen. For example, a grant fund that provided perhaps up to half the cost of Changing Places provision, up to a maximum of a £10,000 grant, would make a real difference to the number of Changing Places toilets available. I also commend the work that the Government are doing with the Changing Places consortium on a new website, which I believe will be launched on World Toilet Day—who knew?—on 19 November. It will provide a detailed map highlighting all the Changing Places toilets currently available.

May I ask the Minister to confirm whether there are any plans to consider amending the building regulations to make Changing Places toilets mandatory in large public buildings? Will he investigate setting up a fund to support part of the cost of Changing Places toilets for developers and local authorities who include them in their design? Will he also advise what current sources of funding might be available to organisations that are considering making Changing Places toilets available in their premises?

Will the Minister say more about what the Government are doing to promote the importance of Changing Places toilets and make awareness of them more easy to access for families planning their trips? Finally, will he say a bit more about the steps that his Department are taking to market Britain as an accessible tourist destination? What opportunities does he envisage could be created to promote more effectively the steps that Britain takes to make our tourist destinations accessible to disabled visitors?

In closing, I should say that, to me, this is one of the really important civil rights issues of our time. It may be an unfashionable cause, but it is about justice and equality of access—a principle that I hope all of us would recognise. If there were five Changing Places toilets in every constituency, there would be reasonable access to appropriate toilet facilities for these families wherever they were. That should be our target in the coming years, and the measures I have outlined would help us to achieve that. One day, the misery that this issue has brought to families of disabled adults and children will be at an end. Why not let that time be now?

Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Local Government) 4:39 pm, 21st October 2015

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the second time this afternoon, Ms Dorries. I thank Toby Perkins for bringing forward this important issue for debate. It is a matter that Members of both Houses have taken a keen interest in over the years. I will endeavour to answer the hon. Gentleman’s questions.

It is important to recognise that there is no dispute about the importance of accessible toilets for disabled people. Most of us take the availability of toilets for granted. Part M of the Building Regulations 2010 sets out a minimum standard for accessible toilets in most public buildings, which helps to ensure that a wide range of needs is met. However, for adults and children whose needs are not met by the standard toilet provision, and for their families and carers, we recognise that the availability of facilities such as Changing Places toilets is central to planning any activity that takes place outside the home.

We can all agree that having more Changing Places facilities is a good thing, which is why my Department has worked with partners including the Changing Places campaign, PAMIS, Mencap and the British Toilet Association to improve the provision of Changing Places toilets, and we intend to continue. I pay tribute to Loretto Lambe of PAMIS. I send my condolences, on behalf of the Government, to her family and friends at this difficult time.

There has been a lot of success. The number of Changing Places toilets in the UK has increased from about 140 to more than 750—I think it is now 770—since my Department became involved in 2007, and more facilities are planned in new locations.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Conservative, Cheltenham

Does the Minister agree that proper access to toilets for disabled people is not just a moral imperative, for the reasons we have heard? It also makes sense because it encourages more people to come into town centres, such as Cheltenham. That, in turn, is good for business.

Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Local Government)

I agree. Cheltenham is a fantastic place; if disabled adults and people with disabled children are able to visit places across the country such as Cheltenham and Chesterfield, we will have a better society and more prosperous town centres.

Our success has been driven by local campaigners, with the broader support and backing of national organisations. Campaigners, including the constituents of the hon. Member for Chesterfield, who made this debate possible, deserve great credit for their dedication and success in ensuring that the number of Changing Places toilets continues to rise. I would like to take the opportunity to recognise the great work that those campaigners have undertaken in their local communities.

Alongside the work of campaigning groups, the Government have been active in considering what we can do to help. Before I come to the issue of Changing Places toilets and building regulations, I will explain what has already been done to support and increase the number of Changing Places toilets. For some years, the Department has hosted the Changing Places Charter Group, which brings together campaigning and business interests. It meets periodically to discuss how voluntary provision of Changing Places facilities can be improved, and it has had some notable successes. It has helped to identify problems that need to be resolved to improve provision, and it has worked to address those issues over time.

The group found that, although building more Changing Places facilities is important, it is only one aspect to be considered in ensuring that Changing Places toilets genuinely improve choice for disabled people and their carers. Changing Places toilets need to be located in the right place, and they need to be easy to find and access. This is a strategic planning issue that requires careful consideration to make the facilities effective. Building a Changing Places toilet in the wrong location is a missed opportunity. Changing Places toilets need to be well maintained, and building owners must ensure they remain open for use. There is no point in forcing a developer to build a Changing Places toilet if it is then locked or used for another purpose. The key is to ensure that building owners are willing hosts who recognise and embrace the importance of Changing Places toilets, and proactively support and promote their use.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Public Services and Education)

The Minister is talking about building Changing Places toilets in the correct locations, but one of the issues for my constituents and many disabled people who make long journeys by road is the lack of Changing Places toilets at motorway service stations. Does the Minister agree that those are sadly deficient at the moment?

Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Local Government)

Over the years, motorway service stations have become an extremely important part of people’s ability to travel—particularly people who need to use facilities when they are travelling. I agree that we should do whatever we can to encourage the development of

Changing Places toilets that are suitable for the people we have been talking about when service stations are built.

In addition to ensuring that Changing Places toilets are built, it is important that disabled people and carers know where their nearest Changing Places toilet is, when it is open, how to access it and what equipment is installed at each location. I am pleased to say that earlier this year, as the hon. Member for Chesterfield said, my Department gave a grant to Mencap, which, working with the Changing Places campaign and the British Toilet Association, has developed a web application that will transform the way in which people are able to find and use Changing Places toilets. That work was funded by the devolved Administrations, and it should be launched shortly.

The website will enable disabled people and their carers to find the nearest Changing Places toilet anywhere in the United Kingdom at the touch of a button. They will be able to navigate to the location using GPS, which has been precisely located; see photos of the outside and entrance, which will make the toilet easy to find; and find opening times and access arrangements. They will also be able to see photos from the inside and obtain all of the necessary details to be confident that the facility will be suited to their individual needs. It is important that people and their carers are not embarrassed when they go to a Changing Places toilet, as the toilets need to satisfy the needs of the people who use them.

The website will also provide a journey planner that will enable people instantly to find the location of every Changing Places facility along their proposed route. In addition, having an accurate map of every Changing Places toilet in the UK will enable Mencap and its partner organisations to identify geographical gaps in provision. Those areas can then be targeted to identify how Changing Places toilets can be provided. We believe that that will have a transformational effect on the lives of disabled people who rely on Changing Places toilets, and their carers. It will help to maximise the benefit of each Changing Places facility that is built.

As I said, it is important that more Changing Places toilets are built and successfully operated over time. The key issue, which brings me to the hon. Gentleman’s question, is how that can be best brought about. The guidance in “Approved Document M”, on accessibility and facilities in buildings, which supports the requirement in part M of the Building Regulations 2010, was amended in 2013 to include a reference to Changing Places toilets; it provides links to information on their installation and use developed by the Changing Places campaign. That important endorsement not only signalled the importance of such facilities but gave building owners and operators confidence that Changing Places toilets can be successfully integrated into their properties. However, that change in guidance does not mean that building regulations require that Changing Places toilets be provided. Instead, it indicates that they are desirable in large buildings and complexes.

There are a number of important factors to take into account when considering the use of building regulations in this context. I note that building regulations are a devolved matter and therefore I can speak only for England in this respect. It would be up to the devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to consider the issue with respect to their own building standards.

Building regulations apply only where building work is taking place. That means that building regulations are not necessarily best suited to ensuring that provision is made in the most important locations. The building regulations are not retrospective. That means that any requirement for Changing Places toilets would apply only in new buildings or to works involving major refurbishment. That means that the number of facilities likely to be provided would be low in comparison with the existing building stock overall.

The building regulations do not apply to all types of buildings. Railway stations, airports and ports are among the most relevant exceptions. More importantly, building regulations do not ensure that Changing Places toilets are retained in use or made available to the public once built. On that basis, it has been the Government’s preferred approach to see voluntary provision coming forward, rather than introducing specific regulatory requirements. A partnering approach helps to ensure that Changing Places toilets are in the right place, are maintained to the right standard and continue to be available for use once built.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Defence)

I want to press the Minister slightly on this point. We are talking about large public buildings, such as leisure centres and concert venues. We are talking about places that by definition will generally be accessible and in relevant places because the providers of those places want people to be able to get to them. I think that just a bit of a push would make a real difference to the number of these facilities that are built. It is really worth the Government’s considering that.

Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Local Government)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for putting that point. That brings me nicely on to saying that we will certainly keep an open mind about whether there is a role for building regulations. I am pleased to tell him that the Department for Communities and Local Government has already commissioned research into how well part M of the building regulations is working. That includes specific reference to consideration of the need for Changing Places toilets. We will consider the results of that research in deciding whether a review of the current guidance in relation to part M is necessary. As the hon. Gentleman can tell from that, we take this issue extremely seriously.

Let me pick up on a couple of the hon. Gentleman’s other points. I completely agree with him about tourism. I mentioned that town centres would be beneficiaries if we had more Changing Places toilets available. Certainly many tourist attractions could benefit. It is great that his county of Derbyshire has a lot of Changing Places toilets compared with elsewhere in the country. That is good because much of Derbyshire is not that accessible as a result of the terrain. It is quite a hilly place, particularly up in the Derbyshire dales and so on. It is great to see the people of Derbyshire taking this issue so seriously.

On the fund that the hon. Gentleman mentioned with regard to encouraging developers, that perhaps would be an issue for after the spending review, when we will know the position that the Department is in on future spending. However, he can be assured that the Government take Changing Places toilets extremely seriously. I have listened intently to this debate and I can see so many hon. Members here who are concerned about the issue. It is certainly something that we will consider in the review of part M of the building regulations.

Question put and agreed to.