Ministry of Civil Affairs proclaims support for “time banks”

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What is a time bank? A time bank is a banking institution that runs on time credit exchanges. Time banking works on the principle that after retiring, people can spend some time taking care of the elderly voluntarily, and the services provided will be recorded as time credits. Community time banks give the volunteers a time banking card, and if needed they can one day exchange their time credits for an equal amount of free nursing services. The services provided include chatting with the elderly, doing their housework and shopping for them.

Due to the lack of family and institutional care available for the elderly, mutual care is becoming an additional way of providing elderly care services, and the time bank plays a vital role in allowing social forces to participate. China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs recently included time banks in its national experimental reform of community and home care for the elderly, and claims that it is trying to find a model that can be expanded nationally. The Ministry has assured that there already is legal and technical support for time bank services, and that new regulations for voluntary service records and certificates will be soon be introduced.

Time banks in China have developed significantly since 2008 due to the release of regulations on voluntary services and the increasing demand for elderly service care, according to professor Chen Gong from the Institute of Population Research of Peking University. However, Chen claims that the “time bank” is generally considered to be something foreign and has not achieved wide recognition in China, so the localization of this concept is necessary, meaning that the time banks should be adapted to the specific situation in different areas.

There are other questions surrounding the time banks, for instance what the role of government should be, and how to make sure that the time credits can be gained and exchanged nationwide. As a result official policies and regulations are needed to clarify the legal status, duties and rights of the time banks, claims Zhao Jingan, a member of the Political Consultative Conference of Guangdong Province. It is also essential to build a national time bank, connect the time banks at all levels and share information between them.