Time Banking: A simple route to community spirit?

Ever since my unsuccessful council by-election campaign in November I’ve had a burning desire to ask more positive questions of the electorate in the run-up to my next council election in May. What kind of volunteering might you be interested in getting involved in? What kind of skills do you have that you might like to pass on to others in the community? What interests and hobbies might you like to share with your neighbours? I had notions of gathering this data together and then signposting voters to voluntary groups or suggesting they get together with others who share their passions or who are eager to learn.

It could have become quite a task, but I was determined that I wanted to leave at least some kind of positive legacy in the community should I not be elected as their councillor next May. But then I stumbled upon something that could make that task so much easier: A framework in which to place all that information and positive ambition: Time-banking.

I came across the subject through being offered a voluntary research role with the Glasgow Volunteer Centre interviewing people who deliver time banks. In a nutshell an hour’s volunteering gives a member one time credit, a credit they can then spend on receiving help from another member. Everyone’s time is equally valued, and everyone is encouraged to give as well as receive. A time broker records everything people feel they could help others with, and brings people together when someone gets in touch asking for help.

During the interviews I heard about how time-banking has transformed people’s lives in practice. Elderly members of a time bank would receive voluntary assistance from other members of the community, but they would also be encouraged to contribute something voluntarily in return. I heard how women in their 80s taught other members of the community how to knit or how to make a pot of soup. When one 85-year-old had a stroke, rather than be admitted, her membership of the time bank meant she felt she could refuse to be admitted to hospital (from where she feared she might never leave) because she knew the other time bank members would be able to help her out with her life at home.

The informality and flexibility of time-banking allows people who perhaps struggle with mental or physical health issues to spend a short amount of time doing basic voluntary work for someone else in the community. For many, the surge in self-worth that comes from someone simply thanking them for their help can be transformative. And numerous time-bank members have gone from benefits into training and work.

I also heard of the potential to assist the rehabilitation of prisoners: Volunteering in prison can allow prisoners to gift time credits to the community, their family, or even their victims. Prisoners have already been profoundly moved by the recipients of their time credits visiting, explaining how they have been helped, and thanking the prisoner for their gift. There are likely to be a great many individuals presently incarcerated who have rarely if ever been thanked in their lives. I’m willing to bet that thanks are addictive. For many experiencing thanks will cause them to want to carry out the deeds that bring more thanks their way. It is surely worth investigating whether this is a way to turn “bad people” good.

So please, if you’re struggling for ideas of how to make a positive impact on your council ward – whether that be to get elected or just to leave a legacy – have a think about setting up a time bank or building a relationship with any that exist in your local area. A well-delivered time bank could save expenditure on health and social services, help benefit recipients work their way gently up to considering training and work, and could help create a strong, resilient community in difficult times.

You can watch a good video on time banking here.

* Ewan Hoyle is a West Scotland list candidate for the Scottish Parliament election next May

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Richard Swales 15th Feb '12 - 9:44pm

    If the work done is recorded in money then HMRC would want to take a big cut (or people would lose benefits). Why is this kind of thing an exception?

  • Daniel Henry 15th Feb '12 - 11:22pm

    Haha! Brilliant!
    “For volunteering you get 50 mins of help in return!”

    “But I thought I’d be given an hour’s help?”

    “Your payment is an hour’s help, but HMRC get 10 mins!”

  • It doesn’t affect benefits and isn’t taxed.

  • Richard Swales 16th Feb '12 - 11:47am

    @Ewan Hoyle.
    I know their work isn’t taxed. Mine is. What I want to know is why anyone thinks that’s fair.

    Instead of the employee benefit trust, Rangers should have just allowed their players to exchange time on the training field for time in bars, time with working girls and whatever else footballers spend their money on these days.

  • Richard Swales 17th Feb '12 - 3:41pm

    @Simon Banks – Yes, in theory, payment in kind should be taxed, the same as if the person you helped slipped you a tenner. In neither case (the lift or the tenner) would it be taxed in practice however, as people are not that slavishly honest and it is under HMRCs radar (and in the case of the lift it is difficult to measure the value). Certainly employees have to pay taxes on payment received in kind.

    It’s true that many people who do hours with the time bank would be under the tax threshold anyway but some would be in a position to have their benefits reduced if they helped themselves by doing paid work. There are relatively few people who are in a position where work pays off directly pound for pound (kids doing paper rounds?). I don’t have anything against time-banking, just as I don’t have anything against paid work; both are great (and great ways of acheiving liberal objectives), but both should be treated equally. Perhaps for every 10 hours earned in the time bank, 6 could be spent on yourself and 4 “taxed” and spent by the centre on work for the benefit of the community generally. If that sounds like it would make the whole thing unviable, then think about current levels of taxation (and benefit removal) are doing to the money economy.

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