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Working Outside the Box: Community Currencies, Time Banks and Social Inclusion

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 February 2004

Senior Research Associate, Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment (CSERGE), University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK. email:


A conceptual framework is developed for analysing UK social policy with respect to work, employment, inclusion and income. A range of possibilities for ‘productive engagement in work’ (PEW) outside the home are identified, ranging from formal employment, through informal employment, working for local community currencies, to unpaid voluntary work, each attracting particular policy responses, according to the hegemonic discourse of social exclusion, namely a liberal individualistic model which sees insertion into the labour market as the solution to exclusion. A new initiative is examined which is increasingly being adopted by local authorities in their efforts to tackle social exclusion and build social capital, namely ‘time banks’: a type of community currency which rewards people in time credits for the work they put into their neighbourhoods. Time banks are found to occupy a space in between what is already known about informal employment, LETS (Local Exchange Trading Schemes) and volunteering, raising a number of issues for policy makers and practitioners. While time banks may be promoted within the UK government's social inclusion remit as a means of increasing job-readiness through volunteering, they have wider and deeper implications. They represent a response to a radical social democratic understanding of social exclusion and hence exert a collective effort to redefine what is considered ‘valuable work’, and thus present an alternative to hegemonic paradigms of work and welfare; their greatest potential is as a radical tool for collective social capital building, resulting in more effective social, economic and political citizenship, and hence social inclusion. Policy recommendations are made to enable time banks to flourish and provide a powerful tool for achieving social inclusion objectives.

© 2004 Cambridge University Press

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