It has been estimated respite carers provide up to $17 billion of unpaid care annually.
A new report by Carers Alliance, Alzheimers NZ and IHC - Respite in New Zealand: We must do better - argues the system is in crisis.
Around 10 percent of Kiwis identified themselves as carers in the 2013 census, looking after 1.1 million other New Zealanders.
Lillian Jarrett is a full-time carer for her son, and has been for 30 years. She says a lot of families struggle to find carers so have to do it themselves.
"It's disgusting really, because I get funded six hours a day basically under the funded family care, then I have carers come in. Overnight care, I do it all."
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Jarrett says there is a desperate need for more respite care facilities.
The report outlines eight steps the Government needs to take to address a system in crisis. They include:
- recommissioning existing services to focus on dementia
- replacing the Carer Support Subsidy, which is only $9.50 an hour
- creating a 'respite innovation fund'
- developing a respite quality and outcomes framework.
"I dread to think how our society will cope if the Government doesn’t heed the warnings in this report and act now to fix what is a badly broken respite care system," said Carers Alliance co-chair and Alzheimers NZ chief executive Catherine Hall.
The number of Kiwis aged 65 and over will nearly triple in the next few decades. More than 300,000 of them will be 85 or older by 2046.
Dementia will become a major issue for New Zealand in coming years," said Hall. "The number of New Zealanders with dementia is expected to grow rapidly - who is going to look after them and who is going to support the carers?"
Jarrett says parents contact her often about where their children can be cared for.
"I've just had a young girl come out of residential to home because she wasn't looked after in residential. They weren't meeting her high needs. Mum's got her at home 24/7 now. Funding doesn't cover round-the-clock care."
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The Government earlier this year said it would update its funding plans at the Budget, which comes next week.