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A charity has warned today that unpaid carers in the UK are reaching “breaking point”, with thousands finding it almost impossible to take a break from their caring duties.

A new report from Carers UK found that 4 in 10 (40%) unpaid carers have not had a break in over a year, while one in four (25%) have been unable to take a break in five years.

The State of Caring 2017 report lists the ability to take time off from caring as one of the top three factors that would make a difference to carers lives, as Carers UK calls on the government to develop an “urgent” action plan to support those who provide unpaid care for loved-ones.

Carers listed a number of personal reasons for needing a break from caring including the opportunity to spend time with partners and children, and being able to see a doctor for their own health concerns.

However, only 16% of unpaid carers are currently buying or receiving a break from caring in the form of services such as respite or alternative care provisions.

Those who had not had a break for a year or more reported a deterioration in their health, both mentally (73%) and physically (65%). Despite this, 87% say they “struggle” to attain time away from their caring duties.

Carers cited three main barriers that were preventing them from taking a break:

  • Cost – Paying for or contributing towards the cost of a break (31%)
  • Care concerns – Person cared for is unwilling to accept support from others (31%),
    support not on offer (27%), or low confidence in quality of care (19%)
  • Lack of awareness – Carers would not know how to request a break (16%)

The report also highlights growing concerns over cuts to adult social care services and how this may impact on the level of support available to carers.

29% of carers are worry that practical support might be reduced in the future. 34% of carers have already seen a change in the support they or the person they care for receives, and 39% said the support offered by social services had been reduced.

Despite the new Care Act, 68% of unpaid carers believe their need to have regular breaks was not “thoroughly considered” when assessed.

Commenting on the findings of the report, Heléna Herklots CBE, Chief Executive of Carers UK, said: “More and more of us are stepping in to provide care and support to loved ones and doing so for more hours every week.

“Without access to breaks, carers can quickly reach breaking point, unable to look after their own health, nurture relationships with friends and family or have the time they need to themselves.

“Our research shows that carers are struggling to get a break because appropriate support for their loved ones isn’t available or services they rely on are being cut or charged for.

“The need for an action plan from the Government on how they will improve support to carers is now urgent. Increasing funding for carers’ breaks is a key part of the change needed to support people to care without putting their own lives on hold.

“Given the enormous value of unpaid care provided by the UK’s 6.5 million carers, estimated to be worth £132 billion each year – getting some time away from caring to spend time with a partner, get to a medical appointment or just get a full night’s sleep surely isn’t too much to ask.”