Responses to inequality: Timebanking

Timebanking is a way of reconnecting people with each other across the barriers of status and income. It’s a really constructive response to the alienation bred by income inequality.

The increasing level of inequality we face in Aotearoa today is leading to more social exclusion felt by a larger proportion of our population. This has a big impact on the well-being of our people.

12 timebank members build a compost and garden bed for another member who’s always dreamed of having a garden.

Social exclusion is the inability of people to fully participate in the ordinary activities of citizens; and to find barriers to reaching their social, civil and political rights. These barriers can be experienced by anyone but are more often affect people with disabilities, mental illness and those living in poverty. As Robert Putnam explains, ‘The more divided incomes are, the more [people] live in different places, the less they see each other’s lives and the less empathy they have for other people.’

Timebanking is a response to an economic framework that values what is scarce over what is most valuable in our society – sharing, loving, bringing up children, civic participation, being a good neighbour, a good friend and a good human.

A timebank is a community of people who offer their skills and services to each other based on a currency of time. One hour’s work earns you a time credit. You can use that time credit to buy an hour of someone else’s time. Through timebanking people build relationships, are valued for their skills and get their needs met. Essentially, each individual that participates is taking an active part in building and supporting their own community.

Timebanking is built on the foundations of reciprocity and equality. Reciprocity calls for active engagement in one’s community – the act of giving and receiving back being of equal importance. The foundation of equality removes the stigma of skills being valued differently according to their economic status.

Timebank members from the Southern Bays meeting up for a monthly coffee
Timebank members from the Southern Bays meeting up for a monthly coffee.

In a society where inequality is experienced in a very real way, timebanking allows people opportunities to participate, contribute and be valued. People are re-defined as assets, not judged on what they ‘lack’. This allows those who have been socially excluded to participate on equal standing with everyone else. Trading allows people to form relationships across established (and expanding) social boundaries.

As increasing inequality in Aotearoa New Zealand reduces these opportunities, timebanks are opening those spaces back up and encouraging people to see each other, interact with each other and continue to build strong social values driven by equality and reciprocity.


Hannah MackintoshHannah Mackintosh coordinates Wellington Timebank. Her work focuses on building community connectivity and resilience. She’s involved in various projects that connect people, art, expression, and education in a way that encourages people to be engaged and informed as well as open to difference and to change.


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