The 'social economy' has become a buzz-word in UK politics over the last decade as the 'third sector' is now seen as a source of social inclusion, enterprise, training and employment by all political parties, and a site of alternative economic and social relations, by activists and academics. But how coherent are government efforts to promote the social economy? And is there more to the social economy than this? This paper begins with a discussion of the term 'social economy' and identifies the key elements it covers, namely social enterprise, voluntary action, and community organisations. Using this broad conception, it then examines how the social economy is framed in policy terms, and finds a range of positive responses, from official support for social enterprises, to efforts to promote volunteering and involvement in community activities (under the heading 'active citizenship'). Examining the policy context of one specific social economy initiative, Time Banking in the UK (which promotes community engagement and social capital by using uses time as a form of money), a different, less enabling, range of policies are encountered. Participants in this alternative social economy are pressured to enter full time employment and cease their unpaid activities. The policy implications of this paradox are drawn out, raising questions about how different forms of 'work' are valued, who will carry out the vital social-reproduction work in our communities, and the downside of 'full employment'.
community currencies employment Social economy social policy time banks voluntary sector