Fears are mounting over possible social welfare cuts amid projections that the Government's reserves could dry up within seven years. Last night social workers warned against cuts, claiming they could compromise the quality of services. Academics said the Government should instead review its infrastructure projects. Recurrent spending on social welfare grew by 61 per cent between 1996-97 and this year, according to draft estimates. In 2000-01, total expenditure on welfare programmes was $27.5 billion, according to the Social Welfare Department, 2.3 per cent more that the year before. Frontier legislator Lee Cheuk-yan warned against cutting spending on welfare or education. Social scientist Dr Wong Hung, of City University's division of social studies, said: 'The underprivileged are usually the easy target of funding cuts because, unlike the tycoons, they have no political influence.' Dr Wong said the Government should delay large-scale infrastructure projects to help control spending, citing the $600 billion blueprint announced on Wednesday to develop Hong Kong's infrastructure. Veteran welfare worker Ho Hei-wah, a spokesman for the Coalitionn of People's Livelihood Groups, said there was no room to cut spending on social welfare services. 'With worsening unemployment, more people will have to rely on public assistance,' said Mr Ho, referring to the record jobless rate of 6.7 per cent released yesterday. As of last December, 241, 673 households were receiving at least some public assistance, 28,886 of them as a result of unemployment - a 22.5 per cent increase on the previous year.