A scheme allowing people who help the elderly or disabled to earn time credits for their own care later in life is being considered by ministers, it emerged today.
The Government is examining whether a form of the care credit system, which successfully operates in Japan, could also work in the UK.
It lets volunteer carers "bank" the hours they spend helping out in their personal time account, for use by themselves later in life or for someone else they choose.
Care Services Minister Paul Burstow said the Government was looking at ways to "enable communities to take social care responsibilities on for themselves".
He told the BBC: "What they do in Japan is effectively a way of people sharing their time and giving of their time to make a difference for people in different parts of the country.
"We have some of those schemes here in the UK such as time banks, and what we are doing is making sure we take some of those lessons learnt in Japan and transfer them to our own domestic circumstances."
In Japan, a system called Hureai Kippu - literally translated as "Caring Relationship Tickets" - was established in 1991.
It has since been expanding as a way of helping to manage the country's increasing elderly population.
Different kinds of tasks earn different amounts of credits.
More credit is given for helping at anti-social hours or with personal body care, while household chores and shopping earn less.
The credits are available to the volunteers themselves later in life, or to someone else they choose, either in or outside their family.
Voluntary groups warned that carers must be properly trained and that access to proper care is a right for all elderly people.
The Government is due to outline details of care service reforms in a upcoming public health White Paper.