THE Scottish Government cannot afford to "paper over the cracks" of staggering" Westminster welfare cuts, Shirley-Anne Somerville has told MSPs.

In a Holyrood debate, the Social Security Secretary said the SNP administration is trying to keep families above the breadline, with £125 million allocated to mitigate benefit cuts imposed by the Tories in Westminster.

But, following calls by Labour to mitigate the two-child cap and rape clause, she said work by the Scottish Government to aid struggling households could be at risk if ministers focused all efforts on undoing the decisions of another government.

READ MORE: Scottish Government to spend £125m mitigating Tory welfare cuts

Outlining steps taken to mitigate the so-called bedroom tax, as well as grants paid out through the Scottish Welfare Fund, Somerville said: "The Scottish Government, however, is not here simply to paper over the cracks of the UK Government's welfare cuts.

"We simply cannot afford to cover the costs of billions of pounds of cuts each year.

"I hear regular calls for us to cover the costs of further cuts but no suggestions as to what we should scrap if we were to do so.

"To be clear, every pound we spend offsetting a UK Government cut means we cannot spend that funding on other public spending and priorities.

"I want this government to be able to invest funds in pulling people out of poverty. That is why we are working hard to develop our new income supplement, which will provide additional financial support for low-income families who are the most at risk from the impacts of the UK Government cuts.

"But we risk all of that if the extend of our ambition is mitigating the decisions of another government."

Somerville spoke out as MSPs debated a report by Holyrood's Social Security Committee on the impact of the introduction of Universal Credit.

Alison Johnstone of the Scottish Greens called the system, which carries a five-week wait for initial payments, a "significant driver of foodbank use", while LibDem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said it had "wholly failed to make work pay" and Labour's Mark Griffin said the committee had heard it was "not fit for purpose".

Tory MSP Michelle Ballantyne conceded the system, which brings several benefits into one payment, would leave some people "slightly worse off".

However, Somerville argued: "There is a growing mountain of evidence that Universal Credit pushes people further into poverty rather than helping them out of it."

Describing the impact of welfare cuts as "staggering", Somerville told the chamber: "The support provided by the UK Government to those in low paying work is simply not enough to make ends meet."

As many as 32,000 people have taken up the option to have Universal Credit payments delivered fortnightly instead of monthly, something offered under limited devolved powers.