Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require certain buildings to have toilets which meet the needs of persons with a range of disability and accessibility requirements; and for connected purposes.
I realise that access to toilets might sound far from a glamorous political campaign. As a somewhat taboo subject—I am an MP who has often not been afraid to raise taboo subjects in the House—it is rarely mentioned in the media or, indeed, in political debate. Most of us take it for granted, and we rarely hear about it when basic human rights for our citizens are listed, so much is taken as a given. When the subject is raised, it is usually with reference to the developing world where, quite rightly, campaigners seek to raise the importance of people’s access to basic sanitation and hygiene, yet too many people are denied that here in modern Britain as well.
Let me start by making it clear what my Bill means by fully accessible toilets, more commonly known as Changing Places toilets. Changing Places toilets should not be confused with standard disabled toilets. They are designed to meet the needs of people with complex needs, providing a height-adjustable, adult-sized changing bench; a tracking hoist system or mobile hoist; adequate space in the changing area for the disabled person and up to two carers; a centrally placed toilet with room either side; a screen or curtain for privacy; a wide tear-off paper roll to cover the bench; a large waste bin for disposable pads; and a non-slip floor.
As the regulations stand, Changing Places toilets are recommended in larger buildings, such as large train stations, motorway services and museums, but are not mandatory. As a minimum, my Bill seeks to strengthen regulations by making the provision of Changing Places toilets mandatory in large new builds, complexes with public access, or sites where visitors can reasonably be expected to spend long periods of time. I say this to every Member in the House this afternoon: if you are not aware that we have a Changing Places facility here in the Palace of Westminster, please take a moment or two today to establish where it is, because one day soon, somebody might ask you if a Changing Places facility is available in this place. Of course, it is ever important that here in Parliament we seek to set an example.
Such a proposal is the aim of the Changing Places consortium, which launched its campaign in 2006 on behalf of more than a quarter of a million people here in the UK who cannot use standard accessible toilets. That includes 130,000 older people, 40,000 people with profound and multiple learning disabilities, 30,000 people with cerebral palsy, 13,000 people with an acquired brain injury, 8,500 people with multiple sclerosis, 8,000 people with spina bifida and 500 people with motor neurone disease. I am sure that there are many more.
The number of people with complex disabilities is growing. Medical advances mean that more babies are, thankfully, saved when once they might not have been, but often they will require considerable assistance as children and as adults. We are all living longer, and older people make up an ever larger proportion of our population, so the need for extra provision will only become greater. It would be a sad reflection on our society’s priorities if people’s basic freedoms, such as going out with their family or friends, were restricted by the absence of suitable toilet facilities, yet every week, this is a reality for the thousands of people who are denied access to many of our country’s most popular attractions.
While drafting the Bill, I heard from too many people who suffer in this way. Kerry from Milton Keynes has a form of muscular dystrophy and her husband is her full-time carer. She told me:
“Taking a simple trip out these days can be a military operation. We have a checklist of things to take, especially if it’s more than a few hours out. The biggest problem I face when going anywhere is when it comes to using a disabled toilet. Some are simply too small to fit me, wheelchair plus hubby—it can sometimes feel very claustrophobic. I find myself limiting my time out because you just can’t risk the embarrassment of having an accident—which is exactly what I’m doing more times than I care to admit to.”
Adam George, who is 11 years old, requires a toilet with a ceiling hoist and an adult-sized changing table. He loves outdoor activities, and his favourite place to go for a day out is the nearby Flambards theme park, but as he got bigger, the family could not manage with the standard disabled toilet. His mother, Rachel, says she made excuses for a year as to why they could not go, telling him it was closed. After consulting the park about installing equipment to meet Adam’s needs, the family have made the difficult decision to undertake legal action against Flambards. Rachel quite rightly asks:
“Can you imagine not being able to access a toilet on a family day out? Especially one you have just paid a lot of money for? Do you just go to places expecting your toilet needs to be met? Why shouldn’t disabled people expect the same?”
Samantha Buck’s son, Alfie, is seven years old and was born with quadriplegic cerebral palsy after being starved of oxygen at birth. They go into town regularly to shop, to have lunch and to meet up for coffee with other mums and their disabled children and teenagers in the same situation. Samantha explained what she has to go through:
“This is what I am forced to do with my seven-year-old son: I have to lay him on a urine soaked floor inside the disabled loo, with the 2nd carer standing outside with the wheelchair. They have to pass the changing accessories through the open door for all passers by to view. This is one of the most awful experiences I have to face every time I come into town.”
Samantha set about campaigning for better facilities for Alfie and the thousands of people who face the same struggles as them every day. I am glad to tell the House that her local council has now agreed to put in two Changing Places toilets, but she feels that the responsibility should not just be for parents and carers to lobby councils.
Current data suggests that there are only 1,123 Changing Places toilets in the UK, with the highest concentrations in major cities. Some areas do not have a facility even within an hour’s drive, so people are either confined in their home, need to rush back if nature calls, or have to face the indignity of being changed on the dirty floors of public toilets. Needless to say, the result can be social isolation. The availability of even the existing facilities is under threat, as public services such as libraries are being closed. Often, those buildings provided the only Changing Places facilities in an area but, sadly, that is rarely a priority when local authority budgets bear the brunt of unprecedented cuts. In my area of Kirklees, the nearest Changing Places toilet was lost when the local children’s playground closed due to Government cuts.
Another issue is that many accessible toilets are provided for children, but not the adults who also need them. A hospital local to my area has its Changing Places toilet situated on the children’s ward. Unfortunately, adults with disabilities cannot access it for safeguarding reasons. We need to urgently rethink our attitude to toilets. Simply labelling a facility as “disabled” or “accessible” does not guarantee that it will be suitable. Most do not have a hoist system or a large changing bench. Disabled and accessible toilets have been found with no level access, and with heavy or narrow doors that are not automated, often with unsuitable or unclean handles and locks. Diverse facilities are also needed to reflect the diversity of the people who need them. Some people need bright fluorescent lights or air fresheners to reduce anxiety, whereas those can lead to sensory overload for others.
My Bill addresses one of those issues that sometimes suffers from being a bit taboo, but for the sake of those who suffer in silence, I believe it must be tackled head on. I hope that the whole House will join me in this campaign.
Question put and agreed to.
That Paula Sherriff, Nic Dakin, Robert Halfon, Layla Moran, Gill Furniss, Tracy Brabin, Rushanara Ali, Mary Creagh, Ruth Smeeth, Chris Elmore, Mr Kevan Jones and Marsha De Cordova present the Bill.
Paula Sherriff accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 23 November, and to be printed (Bill 239).