Legacy of government austerity cuts is a hygiene nightmare during coronavirus crisis

Public toilet closures make hand washing harder

Government cuts have heightened public hygiene problems with the closure of more than a fifth of public toilets in Britain during the past decade, according to UNISON figures published today (Wednesday).

People across the country are being urged to wash their hands frequently and thoroughly in an information campaign aimed at containing the spread of Covid-19.

But these efforts will be made harder because of the government’s council funding cuts that have led to widespread closures of almost a thousand public toilets since the decade of austerity began in 2010.

New freedom of information (FoI) figures gathered by UNISON show there has been a 22% drop in the number of public toilets maintained by councils since 2010, with the closure of 979. Almost 400 councils across England, Scotland and Wales were contacted, with data supplied by 87%.

UNISON head of local government Jon Richards said: “Ministers can’t wash their hands of responsibility for the hygiene problems that could now haunt the country.

“The removal of hundreds of washrooms is one of the consequences of a decade of government cuts. For workers who travel as part of their job, or for anyone else who spends time out and about, this is a significant worry.

“The savage cuts forced on councils have also created wider problems. Reduced resources will have left many woefully unprepared to tackle a public health problem that’s worsening by the day.”

Notes to editors
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union, with more than 1.3 million members providing public services – in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in both the public and private sectors.

Media contacts:
Anthony Barnes T: 0207 121 5255 M: 07834 864794 E: a.barnes@unison.co.uk
Liz Chinchen T: 0207 121 5463 M: 07778 158175 E: l.chinchen@unison.co.uk