Subsidies will be offered to encourage firms to hire more middle-aged workers under a government plan, sources said yesterday. A policy agenda released yesterday mentioned only that measures would be introduced to help place the middle-aged in jobs. Secretary for Economic Development and Labour Stephen Ip Shu-kwan today will announce more detailed plans to tackle unemployment. Sources believe it will be similar to a one-year pilot scheme launched in February 2001 that encouraged private firms to hire more middle-aged workers. The scheme was extended last year. Job seekers over 40 who have registered with the department for more than three months are eligible. Employers receive a $2,800 training subsidy. The Labour Department said the programme had helped nearly 5,000 people find jobs by last month. It is not known how long the workers stayed in the jobs. It is also understood that the government is considering a 'co-payment' scheme for social services in a bid to save funds. This would involve some recipients having to contribute to their cost. Mr Tung faced repeated questions during a Legislative Council question and answer session yesterday on why he had shown little concern for livelihood issues. He said tourism and the logistics industry would create more jobs and the government would spare no effort to crack down on illegal workers. Unionist legislator Lee Cheuk-yan feared that even if the Pearl River Delta economy developed, the long-term unemployed in Hong Kong would not be able to enjoy the benefits. Mr Lee said expanding the employment programme for the middle-aged was better than nothing but it would not help the overall unemployment problem much. Nelson Chow Wing-sun, chair professor of the University of Hong Kong's department of social work and social administration, said Health, Welfare and Food Bureau officials had told him that the government wanted to charge those who received certain social services. He said he supported the 'co-payment' idea. 'When the government is facing such a difficult financial situation, people who can afford the services should pay at least part of the cost,' Professor Chow said. For example, family counselling, youth activities and residential services for the elderly were services where a charge could be levied. He said some better-off clients were willing to pay for good services. 'Some of my friends have sought help from private family therapists. They think [subsidised] non-governmental organisations are only places for the grassroots people and they fear the services are not very good.' Lau Siu-kai, head of the Central Policy Unit, Mr Tung's think- tank, said the public response to the policy address was better than he had expected. He said many people did not have high hopes on welfare, taking into account the government's huge budget deficit.