Thousands of individuals and families across Scotland are being forced into poverty as a result of UK welfare cuts.

This failed system is having an especially shocking impact on women who are twice as dependent on social security as men, with 20% of women’s income coming from benefits and the tax system, compared with just 10% of men.

The cruel cuts that are being enforced through Universal Credit place women at greater risk of deeper and sustained poverty. By 2020, women who are lone parents will experience an estimated loss of £4000 per year in income, a 20% drop in living standards.

And with its single monthly household payment, Universal Credit makes it easier for domestic abusers to seize and regulate family income.

As we celebrate International Women’s day it is a damning indictment on the UK Government that it continues to pursue a policy that is not only having such a devastating impact on women and gender equality but seems in fact to have been designed to increase inequality.

We are building Scotland’s new social security system upon the principles of dignity and respect. This means we are working with people, not for them to create a new social security system that puts people first and that looks after the varying needs of everyone who will use this system.

We cannot fix all of the problems with Universal Credit. It’s a benefit delivered by the UK Government. But we are doing everything we can, with limited resources available, to make changes that will help to improve people’s experience of UC in Scotland.

We are already using our powers over how Universal Credit is paid to offer people in Scotland a choice to receive their payments twice monthly and for the rent element to be paid directly to their landlord.

We also want to introduce split payments to ensure that everyone has access to an independent income and we are engaging with DWP to take this work forward.

We will continue to engage with users of the Universal Credit system and with a wide range of stakeholders, including women’s organisations, about how this should be delivered.

In addition to using our limited powers to make improvements to the Universal Credit offering in Scotland, we are also using the new powers that we have under the Social Security (Scotland) Act to introduce new payments.

The first payment that we made using these new powers was Carer’s Allowance Supplement.

The majority of carers are women and I have seen for myself the financial sacrifice they make.

I recently met with a mum in Edinburgh who almost 20 years ago gave up her career, to care for her son who has complex physical and learning disabilities.

She gave up a well-paid job, which had a major impact on the financial wellbeing of her family.

Meeting people like this makes me proud that in our first round of Carer’s Allowance Supplement payments over two thirds (68.6%) of the 77,620 payments were made to women.

And we are putting money into the pockets of low income families through the Best Start Grant, which has already paid out £2.7m in payments to over 7000 families.

Unlike the equivalent UK scheme this Government placed no cap on the number of children it supports. Our Pregnancy and Baby Best Start Grant payments are for all children, not just the first child as is the case in the rest of the UK.

By summer 2019 we will introduce the next two additional payments of the Best Start Grant.

These are a £250 payment that will be made to low income families around the time a child starts nursery and a further £250 when they start school.

By widening the eligibility for the Best Start Grant and introducing new payments we are helping more women get access to additional financial support, reaching over 90% of lone parent households, who are more likely to be female and face higher rates of poverty.

So as we mark International Women’s Day and celebrate what has been achieved in the fight for gender equality - we must also rededicate ourselves to securing the progress that still needs to be made.

And for me a key part of that is ensuring that we make further progress in lifting more women out of poverty to give them a better future.

I am determined to deliver on this by creating a benefits system that is fairer, and gives women in need of support, the money they need, when they need it. A service built upon dignity, fairness and respect.

- Shirley-Anne Somerville is Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People.