Alice is a beautician by trade, and Bob is a general labourer.
Alice’s skills are quite in demand; let’s say she can earn £16 an hour (take-home, after taxes). She is self-employed, and there are some times when the business is quiet. Bob’s paid work usually earns him £8 an hour (take home), when he can find any work, but quite often he can’t.
Let us suppose that each has both a normal bank card and a DWP time-bank card. The DWP time-bank, with which both Bob and Alice are currently in credit, is a large but fairly simple database, recording the amount of time each participant has spent working unpaid at some qualifying activity. I will explain this in more detail later.
Alice and Bob go into a supermarket. They see that, alongside the money-price displayed next to each item, some of the items (those currently classified as necessities) also show a time-cost.
The money-price of each good is determined by the usual market forces; the time-cost is an estimate of the amount of working-time it takes to produce that good, from raw materials to supermarket checkout.
Let’s say that one particular item has a market price of £4, and a time-cost of 20 minutes. (These are not meant to be realistic figures; they are picked as simple numbers, to explore the principle.)
Alice elects to buy this item with her Visa debit card. Bob pays with his time-card. The DWP pays £4 to the supermarket for Bob’s item, and deducts 20 minutes from his time-account..
(The DWP is in no way involved in Alice’s transaction.)
Both Alice and Bob have acted in accordance with their perceived best interests. It takes Alice 15 minutes to earn £4, so she reckons the money- price is a better deal for her than the 20 minutes time-cost. Bob has bought the same item with 20 minutes from his time-account, which is a gain for him, since it would take him half an hour to earn £4 at his paid work.
For Bob’s purchase the DWP has paid the market price (£4) directly to the supermarket, which means the tax-payer has effectively paid Bob £4 for 20 minutes of work.
But how is Bob able to find the sort of work that puts credit into his time-bank, if he cannot find similar work at £8 an hour? And how does Alice, who runs a pretty efficient business of her own, come to have credit in a DWP time-bank?
Look around. There is plenty of work that needs doing, but no-one is able (or willing) to pay for it. Local government operations regularly have need of temporary workers, in all sorts of work areas. Non-profit organisations, suitably vetted, also might be entitled to advertise for unpaid workers, and to credit the time worked to the participant’s DWP account. A dedicated web-site could advertise all qualifying jobs in any given locality.
Also, if, on his morning walk, Bob notices a massive growth of Japanese knotweed, or a broken bit of fencing somewhere, why should he not be able to phone the local council, and offer to sort the problem, for some negotiated amount of time-credit?
If Alice wants to supplement her business income during the quiet weeks, and at the same time do something for her community, she might spend a few hours helping social services; maybe visiting old ladies, doing their hair and nails, drinking tea and chatting. That time could, if she wanted, be credited to her time-account. And why not?
THERE IS NO SHORTAGE OF WORK TO BE DONE.
A system like this, implemented nationwide, could mean the end of ‘unemployment’ as a category.