Finance Minister Grant Robertson defends cost of living cash payouts dubbed a last-minute band aid by National's Christopher Luxon

The Government's plan to tackle the rising cost of living with $350 cash payouts has come under fierce criticism, with the Opposition calling it a last-minute bandaid.

But Finance Minister Grant Robertson insisted on Friday that the rising cost of living has always been a top consideration for the Government. 

Robertson delivered his fifth Wellbeing Budget on Thursday, fighting back against the narrative the Government has not done enough to help with the rising cost of living, by giving back to the inflation-afflicted. 

From August, $27 a week will be put straight into the back pockets of more than 2 million Kiwis earning $70,000 or less, for three months. Those who receive the Winter Energy Payment will not be eligible. 

It's no secret inflation is hitting Kiwis hard. Recent Stats NZ data showed grocery prices were up 6.4 percent compared to last year, with the cost of fruit and vegetables up a whopping 9.4 percent. And wages have been lagging behind, up 3 percent.

The Opposition has been hammering Labour over what's been dubbed the 'cost of living crisis', suggesting the Government's enormous spending throughout COVID-19 inflamed inflation. 

Robertson, speaking at an ANZ post-Budget event on Friday, said it was a "recognition that there was a wider group of New Zealanders who were facing cost of living pressure, but we didn't want to put in place something such as, I don't know, un-targeted tax cuts.". 

A not-so-subtle dig at the National Party's proposed income tax cuts

National leader Christopher Luxon, speaking at his own post-Budget event in Auckland on Friday, was fired up and ready to pick apart the $800 million policy. 

"Backwards Budget," he labelled it. "We call it bandaid economics. It's like we've got a big, open flesh wound and we've decided to put a bandaid on top of it."

Luxon took the credit for Robertson's cost of living policy. 

"This is one of those things that was jammed in at the last minute," he said. "It was under pressure from the Opposition, from the public, from the media."

Robertson told reporters the policy had been in the works for months. 

"From the beginning of the year, we were looking very closely at cost of living increases, and that's why we did the fuel excise duty cut and it's why we did the half price public transport."

The Government's cost of living package included an extension of that reduced fuel tax and half price public transport - a billion dollars all up paid for with the $60 billion COVID-19 fund. But it pales in comparison to the $11.1 billion cost of reforming the health sector.

The Government is replacing all District Health Boards (DHBs) with a new centralised agency, Health New Zealand, that will work in partnership with the new Māori Health Authority. Health New Zealand will become the country's largest employer. 

Health Minister Andrew Little, speaking in Wellington on Friday, said the reforms will help to solve the health postcode lottery, where the care Kiwis receive depends on where they live and what DHB covers them.

"Because of Budget 2022, Health New Zealand in collaboration with the Māori Health Authority will now be able to plan coherently and consistently for a future hospital estate that will reflect the needs of regional networks and the nationwide health system, rather than DHB region by DHB region."

It's the largest health spend on record, including for our drug-buying agency. 

"$191 million over two years has been added to Pharmac's medicines budget which I expect will allow Pharmac to address treatment gaps, especially in cancer," Little said. 

But it's still nowhere near enough for cancer drug advocate Malcolm Mulholland, chair of Patient Voice Aotearoa. 

"We had Pharmac come out last year and say they needed $417 million just to clear their waiting list," he told AM. 

The public purse only stretches so far and the Government's legacy health restructure is clearly its priority.