In some ways, of course, the DWP decision to direct claimants to their local time bank isn't anything new. Since 2000, the government has acknowledged that people can take part in time banking while they are on benefits.
But BIS commissioned an independent review last year on the sharing economy, and one of its recommendations was that DWP should encourage claimants to take part in mutual support through time banks.
It is an interesting area, and growing fast through Europe - see my report for the European Commission on the growth of time banking. There are also developments of time banking through Slivers of Time and through Spice.
In the end the statement was pretty non-committal. It wasn't exactly encouragement, but it was certainly a new openness to claimants breaking out of their iron bureaucratic cage and embracing mutual support.
But this is where it gets to be difficult. I notice that the statement is only available on the Timebanking UK website, as if the government were dimly aware of the implications too.
What if more than ten people pop straight along from their nearest Job Centre to each of the nation's 300 or so pieces of time banking infrastructure? They might be able to cope, but that's about all. Any more than that and they would be overwhelmed.
So you have to ask - is this a gimmick? And if it isn't a gimmick, and the DWP really believe that mutual support will help their claimants - and it certainly could - then how can they make it possible to spread the idea more widely?
And before you answer 'pay for it', just think about the implications. If the DWP pays for some of the nation's mutual support infrastructure - its co-production infrastructure or its preventative infrastructure - then they will own it. It will come under their minute control and will cease to have the informal flavour that makes it so successful.
In any case, most public services need some link to the new preventative infrastructure too, and it is not in the interests of the Department of Health, for example, for these networks to be under any kind of DWP control.
This is an obvious example of where the Cabinet Office ought to intervene - to bring all Whitehall's departments of state around the table to think about how, together, they might shape this new mutually supportive, preventative infrastructure.
Should it be created by insisting that every public service contractor pays into it? Or shows that they are taking steps to reduce demand during the lifetime of the contract? Or shows how they will involve service users as equal partners in the delivery of services?
I don't know, but I do know this. A new, semi-formal infrastructure that involves service users to use their experience and human skills to support each other, especially when people come out of professional oversight, is absolutely necessary. And absolutely inevitable.
It will include not just time banking but local area co-ordinators, health champions, friends of hospitals and many other related networks - and it will underpin the sustainability of professional effort.
But it won't just happen by itself. And it certainly won't happen when one government department goes it alone, because they don't understand the wider significance of what is going on.
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