Impact of Timebanking

What is a Timebank?

Core Values of Timebanking

Interview with York Timebank Member


Impact of Timebanking

References and more information

In its publication ‘The new wealth of time: how timebanking helps people  build better public services’ The New Economics Foundation (2008) gives case studies which focus on specific areas, based on the local need and intention of the organisation or founder. They provide case studies in which each of the following is a main focus: improving mental well-being  in a variety of specific and challenging circumstances; revitalising a former mining village; broadening and deepening tenants’ participation in the design and delivery of services within a housing association; reducing social isolation of older people; reducing anti-social behaviour and crime; preventing criminalisation. In each case there are testimonies about the positive effect the time bank has had upon individual and community life, with improved self-esteem and greater constructive community involvement being recurrent themes.

Slay and Robinson (2011) look at co-production, including timebanking, in combination with public services. ‘The examples have at their heart equal and reciprocal relationships between professionals, people using services, their families and neighbours’ (p.2).

The following are also identifiable themes from the literature:

  • economic benefits to participants;
  • community building and increases in ‘social capital’;
  • health and well-being benefits;
  • financial benefits to the state.

Economic benefits

Unlike the market, timebanking values all hours of work equally: 1 hour of time = 1 time credit (or ‘time dollar’ in some US timebanks). Powell and Dalton (2003) argue that the system therefore favours those with more time and it creates non-market wealth. Time banks help create a greater balance of power between those with greater wealth in time and those with greater monetary wealth; it ‘elevates the non-market economy as an obligatory source of energy, vitality, knowledge, insight, and essential labor’ (Cahn, 2004)

To behave and be valued as a producer, you do not necessarily need money, but to behave as a consumer money is absolutely essential. If you do not have money, you do not exist in the consumerist economy, and cease to have value. And having lost the ability to value ourselves and each other as producers, people without money, the unemployed, are increasingly treated as if they do not exist. (Kimmel, 2009, p.8)

Community building and increases in social capital

Time credits ‘link people in a social network; each act of caring triggers a reciprocal act so that every transaction has social capital built in’ (Cahn, 2004).

It recognises that everyone, even those defined as disadvantaged or vulnerable, has something worthwhile to contribute. All time is valued equally in timebanking. This is the opposite of the market approach where one person’s time in service is valued higher than another’s. Even in traditional volunteering, there is a one-way transaction taking place, which can reinforce social hierarchies (Letcher and Perlow, 2009, p.2). Timebanking, on the other hand, is a 'two-way street', a reciprocal arrangement: power differentials between people are minimised (Powell and Dalton, 2003). It is based on the premise that giving and receiving are simple and fundamental ways of generating trust between people and views people as assets rather than defining them by deficits. ‘This is especially important for individuals and communities that have been marginalised and, in the process, their capacities have been overshadowed by their problems and needs’ (Powell and Dalton, 2003, p.93).  The socially excluded become providers of useful services. All are providers and consumers of services, building mutual trust within communities. Seyfang (2003, p.699) points to the urgent policy interest in ‘nurturing community self-help … and active citizenship to overcome social exclusion’.

Simon and Boyle (2008, p.1) summarise three reasons for the ‘rapid growth’ in timebanking: ‘There is an inbuilt ‘multiplier effect’ as one act of kindness leads to another. Secondly, people find it easier to ask for a favour when they know they can pay it back. And, thirdly, everyone feels more secure knowing there are people around they can trust and can rely on in an emergency’. Cahn (2004) emphasises the central role of trust in timebanking ‘Paper money leaves no trail; the parties come and go as strangers. Trust requires memory. When money substitutes for trust, trust atrophies’ (p.63).

Time banks can be more successful than traditional forms of volunteering in attracting socially excluded groups (Seyfang, 2002). Within this, there is a need to adapt to local circumstances. For example, a participant in a time bank in Wales explained that

the term ‘volunteering’ has never taken off [here]. The culture which led to the development of bottom up socialism was based on mutualism. We are trying to remember and reinvent that tradition through timebanking, reintroducing the notion of membership rather than just being a beneficiary, a client or a consumer.

(New Economics Foundation, 2008)

The tradition of people working together gave birth to the mutual societies, educational settlement trusts, miners’ welfare institutes and chapels during the 19th and 20th century (Spice, n.d. p.1).

Powell and Dalton (2003) draw upon studies carried out by health maintenance organisations. They are cautious about generalising the results of these studies, but highlight some findings which indicate the building of social and economic capital. Participants often saw themselves as either providers or receivers, but not both. Healthier participants tended not to see themselves as recipients; however, they did report that it was easier to ask for help if they had a credit balance and did not have to ask for ‘charity’. Participants reported that a chief benefit of the timebank was its flexibility in meeting particular and changing needs. The authors confirm the view that time banks are designed to build social capital and promote civic participation.

Seyfang (2003) reports that in the research on Rushey Green timebank in London, the time credits appeared to be of little importance to participants: few joined specifically to earn credits. Most reported appreciating the community support that could be called on if needed, and, significantly that they would be able to ‘purchase’ the help they needed. The local focus of the exchanges was considered important by participants, and the fact that everyone’s time is valued equally. Seyfang (2003, p.704) concludes that ‘it is therefore a combination of the values of the timebank, and the structure of facilitated exchange (of which credits are a vital part) which are key to the success of time banking’.

Timebanks can result in a greater level of political engagement and democratic renewal (Seyfang 2002)  and people can develop practical visions for their neighbourhoods with the support of other, like-minded participants.

Seyfang (2002, p.2) concludes that some keys to generating the social and community benefits are

having a strong local presence – a locally known time broker, a drop in centre, good communication with participants and ongoing development work to recruit local businesses and community organisations; being based in a local organisation; and facilitating social events – to build group cohesiveness and stimulate exchanges.

Health and well-being benefits

At the heart of this, the literature highlights gains to self-esteem and self-confidence when people believe they have something useful to offer. ‘Timebanking is centred on trust in one another and hope for the future’ (Sacha 2012).  The contribution is deemed of equal value to any contribution received. In doing that ‘it makes an important statement to that person about his or her own self-worth' (Cahn, 2004). Members gain strength and pleasure from being able to help each other and the literature reports the increase in confidence that members develop. Boyle et al (2006, p.20) identify previous high levels of depression, anxiety and loneliness amongst participants in the three time banks of their study, and that many participation had a positive impact on mental well-being. Timebanks also offer a sense of structure, purpose and fulfilment to those who are out of work or retired (Sacha, 2012).

Financial benefits to the state: cost-benefit analyses

Powell and Dalton (2003) report that exchanges were found to have potential for documented cost savings. For example, a telephone reassurance program for chronic asthma patients who were included in the timebank prevented hospitalisations and ‘saved the system an estimated $80,000’ (p.104).

Community initiatives are widely seen as having the potential to improve quality of life for individuals and communities. In the absence of economic scrutiny, however, they run the risk of being disregarded as a ‘feel good’ story of no wider significance (Callison, 2003 – cited in Knapp, 2012, p.12). In an economic climate in which demonstrable returns are demanded of capital, cost-benefit analyses are vital to give such initiatives a chance of continued funding.

Knapp (2013, p.2) poses the question ‘Is there an economic case for community capital-building?’ He takes as his starting point the ‘recurrent theme’ in England about whether communities can play a greater role in meeting social care needs, to enable people to regain their independent lives, control and dignity, or in preventing the needs from arising in the first place. He undertook a study using a cost-benefit approach and decision-modelling techniques to evaluate the monetary values of ‘building community capital’. He cites the Department of Health (2010) which explains that care ‘must be … about reinforcing personal and community resilience, reciprocity and responsibility, to prevent and postpone dependency and promote greater independence’ (p.2). Knapp hypothesises that community building activities, such as time banks, could generate ‘higher levels of trust, higher levels of participation in community activities and reduced social isolation’, thereby improving health and wellbeing and reducing reliance on care services.

He claims to have been conservative in the assignment of monetary values to outcome throughout the analysis. The cost of a time bank coordinator is estimated at £23,000/year (dollars) and a membership of 50 participants is assumed. On this basis, his modelling gives a net economic value of £1312 per person per year. He cautions, however, that decisions should not be taken to ‘maximise efficiency in some absolute sense,’ but rather to ‘achieve the best use of resources in the context of a range of objectives’ (p.12).

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