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Unpaid carers save the public purse £132bn a year but get little in return.

At first, I thought I must be one of the lucky eight per cent.

New statistics from Carers UK show that only eight per cent of unpaid carers – those of us who don’t do it as a career but because we have to – have been able to take a break from caring sufficient to, for example, visit the doctor.

Yes, but then I tried to remember the last time I saw a doctor – at an appointment that wasn’t for Mrs Mike.

I can’t remember when that was.

I don’t actually need to see a doctor, mind. That might have a lot to do with it. And I wonder about statistics that say one-third of unpaid carers would use time off to see a doctor.

If the UK is using people with illnesses to care for people with illnesses – and/or disabilities – that should be ample evidence that the system is broken and must change.

Evidence that 44 per cent of those who managed to get time off then used it to see a doctor suggests that the situation is even worse.

So now I was counting myself lucky for a different reason.

Then I saw the statistic showing that fully half of unpaid carers would use time off caring to catch up on much-needed sleep.

I understand that one all too well.

You see, as a carer, you never know when you will be needed. I was awakened in the early hours of the morning because Mrs Mike was in a lot of pain.

It makes for an unpredictable, interrupted schedule. And ruins sleep patterns.

It hasn’t ruined my health – so far. Maybe I’m extra-lucky.

But it seems clear that many, many people aren’t.

Replacement care may be expensive – and poor-quality. And if I want it, I may find myself subject to a postcode lottery.

NHS spending on support for carers varies hugely, depending on where people live.

And the simple fact is that there is no co-ordinated social care system throughout the UK – despite the fact that social care was included in the remit of the Department of Health (and its title) a considerable while ago.

We hear that plans are due to be unveiled every now and then… and then we hear that they’ve been delayed.

Has anybody written a single line of such a plan?

Selfishly, I’m concerned about this. While I’m in good nick at the moment, I can’t be sure that will last forever.

The Carers UK report paints a picture of not just thousands, but hundreds of thousands of people burning out – putting their own health at serious risk – just to improve a loved one’s quality of life for a while longer.

Carers UK wants the Government to double the Better Care Fund, which supports carers’ breaks, from £130 million to £260 million and ensure this money is ring-fenced so that carers around the country can get the breaks they need.

But I think this is just applying a sticking plaster to a wound that is getting deeper and deeper.

The answer is a co-ordinated strategy – not a random and rare chance at an all-too-short break.