What are the benefits?
When timebanking as a means of exchange can be applied in so many different settings, the benefits can be far and wide-reaching. Broadly speaking, they can be distilled into three main categories, each of which has broad implications for social and economic wellbeing.
Economics – more with less
Timebanking makes use of the assets and resources that exist within a particular community or group that are traditionally overlooked in conventional economic transactions and services. In this way, through co-production, timebanking applies a multiplier effect to enlarge the pool of resources available in any system. This in itself can breed innovation, by helping us to think beyond our conventional assumptions about our ‘means’ and the limits of what is possible. In a public service setting this means a greatly increased pool of resource and sphere of possibility, without having to raise additional finance.
But just as importantly, timebanking can help bring about culture change within an organisation. Moving to a co-production lens reduces the burden many professionals feel in having to operate within systems that do not solicit the active support of the people they are trying to help. Timebanks can herald a new relationship between providers and users of services, so that professionals do not become swamped by a tide of ever-rising need and demand on their resource, but instead see themselves as facilitators of co-produced services.
Equality is enshrined in every timebanking exchange through the principle of an hour for an hour. Because an hour to every human being is equally valuable, and everybody has something to give, timebanking can help some of the most marginalised people feel a sense of self worth and belonging. Timebanking helps to bridge previously unbridgeable divides: race, class, gender, national origin — because it defines people by what they are prepared to do for others.
In addition there is an equality of access. By maximising the use of assets and resources, whether that be a spare meeting room or an individual’s ability to spend time with someone else, timebank members gain equal access (an hour is the same to everybody) to resources that might typically be beyond their means given their economic position. This allows people learn new skills or take advantage of training opportunities.
Timebanks are successful in attracting people who would not normally get involved in traditional volunteering. Only 16 per cent of traditional volunteers have an income of under £10,000, whereas nearly four times as many timebank participants do (58%). Nearly double the number of timebank participants are not in formal employment (72%) compared to traditional volunteers (40%). (NEF, 2002. The Time of Our Lives)
Timebanking builds social networks of people who give and receive support from each other, enabling people from different backgrounds, who may not otherwise meet, to come together and form connections and friendships. Generating social capital in this way can be an important determinant of health, wellbeing and resilience, all of which can prevent needs arising. Examples include ensuring older people receive nutritional food and are able to eat regularly, and providing a ‘circle of support’ for young people in keeping them out of trouble.
In addition, this is a highly effective community development tool, empowering individuals and groups to bring about change, make choices and take control of their own lives and neighbourhoods.