Coeliacs on subsidised food vouchers complain of price inflation

Coeliac Association says continued price increases over the years has eroded purchasing power of sufferers entitled to government vouchers

Government vouchers for sufferers of coeliac disease, a chronic illness, are losing purchasing power as inflation has hit the prices of gluten-free at supermarkets.

The Coeliac Association said such food price increases, already up by 9% in the last weeks, was seriously undermining the purchasing power of the vouchers, forcing coeliacs to fork out much more money themselves to buy gluten free food, which they said exorbitantly high.

Coeliac disease is recognised as a chronic illness, where those diagnosed through a biopsy as being coeliacs qualify for benefits under Schedule V and receive vouchers under the POYC scheme, exchangeable for a limited range of food items from specific retail outlets and supermarkets.

“Coeliacs are the sole category of patients registered and receiving chronic illness related benefits under Schedule V who are experiencing the anomaly whereby their benefits are being eroded; unfortunately, this is discriminatory and, to add insult to injury, nothing is being done about it,” said George Borg Cardona, of the Coeliac Association.

“Whilst our Association is definitely not against the vouchers, from inception it had informed the competent authorities that, with coeliacs buying the gluten free food directly, any price increase would effectively mean a reduction in their purchasing power; in short, an increase in cost would be borne by the patient and not by the government,” Borg Cardona said.

The voucher system was introduced in 2015 to replace the direct provision of the goods by the health department. But over the years, prices for gluten free food never fell but increased gradually.

“The Association is very much aware as well as greatly concerned that this situation is causing hardship to coeliacs but, in particular, to those who have limited means and those who, in addition, suffer from other illnesses and need to buy additional medication.

“Under these circumstances, we cannot but strongly urge the government to honour its electoral promise to take care of coeliacs by revising the value of the vouchers, thus eliminating unnecessary hardship.”