The story is now familiar, but it never ceases to shock. The COVID-19 pandemic brutally exposed the vulnerabilities and inequities at the heart of our society. Governments were required to take steps unheard of outside of wartime, pausing the functioning of large sections of the economy and spending at unprecedented levels to sustain individuals, families, businesses and the market. As historian and political economist Adam Tooze recently put it, “if one word could sum up the experience of 2020, it would be disbelief.”

A Financial Times editorial acknowledged that the “virus lays bare the frailty of the social contract” and suggested that “radical reforms — reversing the prevailing policy direction of the last four decades — will need to be put on the table.” With these upheavals have come political uncertainty. Gone are the days when a party or politician could be categorized as either ‘small state libertarian’ or ‘tax and spend social democrat’. The government’s plans for a £12 billion-a-year tax rise from April 2022 to fund social care reform in England is a perfect example of the changes we have seen and an indication of the future to come.

The pandemic has put the reform of social care in the spotlight. After decades of inaction by successive governments, doing nothing is clearly no longer tenable. But, taking a closer look, current plans may be less a break with the prevailing economic orthodoxy and more ‘Business as Usual’. Without further changes these reforms could represent a massive handover of wealth from public to private hands, and from the rich to the poor.

Many commentators and analysts have already pointed out that the rise in national insurance will hit the lowest earners hardest. With wealth basically untouched, this looks a lot like the poorest paying for the richest. In addition, we have seen debates over the inequity built into the social care cap, whereby the wealthiest will have most of their assets protected.

But this is only half the picture. CICTAR’s research in Australia, Canada and the UK shows a clear pattern of profit extraction from the sector.

With social care remaining a marketized commodity, and with insufficient regulation of the marketplace, much of the new funding will end up lining the pockets of wealthy investors. Maximizing the bottom line almost always means cutting corners on safety and working conditions. And with an industry wide pattern of shifting profits offshore and using of tax havens, foreign investors are often able to avoid UK income tax on profits extracted from UK care homes.

Reform must involve more than simply adding funding, as much needed as that is. There is little point in pouring more money into the social care bucket without first fixing the leaks.