A far-reaching program designed to tackle the continued rise of violent acts perpetrated against the elderly was given the go-ahead Tuesday by the government's Ministerial Committee against Violence, which is headed by Public Security Minister Avi Dichter. The plan includes a hot line to report violent crimes, escort services for the elderly, and neighborhood-based elderly patrols manned by the civil guard and the police, as well as increased educational programs for youth. It was devised over the past three months by a specially created interministerial committee led by the director-general of the Pensioners' Affairs Ministry, Dr. Avi Bitzur. "Dealing with acts of violence against the elderly population in Israel should be the aim of the entire nation," Bitzur said, after the plan was approved by ministers from across the political spectrum. "The goal of the committee is to allow every elderly person to live in peace, dignity and safety." Bitzur said that it was the state's responsibility to provide elderly people with a secure environment. "We will do everything we can to guarantee that elderly people can live with the utmost respect," he continued. While the bulk of funding for the NIS 7.4 million plan will come from the Pensioners' Affairs Ministry, other government offices such as the Education and Public Security ministries, the National Insurance Institute and local authorities will also participate in the cost. "This plan is wide-ranging and all-encompassing," commented Dichter. "And it touches on the roots of the problem." He continued: "Close to 27,000 reports of violence against elderly citizens were filed [last year], with thousands of those involving physical violence. It is not right that an elderly person cannot go and collect his pension without fearing for his or her personal safety." Among the projects recommended by the plan, which will be launched as a pilot in six local authorities in the coming weeks, is assistance from professionals on how to secure one's home and legal aid in cases where there are criminal proceedings. The basket of protective and escort-type services will be carried out by a combination of officers from the civil guard, youths performing their national service, youth movement members, general volunteers, and schoolchildren as part of their compulsory community service project. A spokesman for the Pensioners' Affairs Ministry also said that thousands of shekels would be spent on running advertising campaigns to raise public awareness on the subject and developing informational programs for the young. Elements of the plan have already been set in motion, including the mandatory establishment of a steering committee to oversee its execution and to decide which six communities would be part of the pilot. The criteria for inclusion in the initial six, said sources inside the ministry, were based on the number of senior citizens in each locale, as well as socioeconomic levels. In 2007, more than 26,432 complaints of violence were made by pensioners to various different bodies, including the police and social services. Of that figure, 84 percent of the claims came from seniors of very advanced age and 9% came from new immigrants from the former Soviet Union, even though those communities only account for 25% of the elderly population. The most complaints received came from metropolitan Tel Aviv (7,651); Haifa lodged 2,130 complaints and Netanya 1,497.