British Prime Minister David Cameron will face pressure Thursday to soften his austerity plans, toughen up policing and do more to help inner-city communities after days of riots and looting laid bare deep social tensions in a depressed economy.
With the public seething over the looting of anything from sweets to televisions, Cameron has so far dismissed the rioters as nothing more than opportunistic criminals and denied the unrest was linked to the knock-on effects of deep spending cuts.
But community leaders say inequality, cuts to public services and high youth unemployment are also probably to blame for some of the worst violence seen in Britain for decades.
As the clear up continues, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government must find quick fixes to avoid further unrest while also addressing longer-term problems in what Cameron has called “broken Britain.”
“There are pockets of our society that are not just broken but frankly sick,” Cameron told reporters.
A surge in police numbers helped to calm streets in London and cities across England such as Manchester and Birmingham on Wednesday night, but four days of often unchecked disorder have embarrassed the authorities, leaving communities ransacked and exhausting emergency services.
Police arrested more than 1,000 people across England, filling cells and leaving courts working through the night to process hundreds of cases. Among those charged were a teaching assistant, an 11-year-old boy and a charity worker.
It is unclear whether the peace will hold, but trouble on Wednesday night was limited to the odd skirmish. Businessmen and residents had also come together to protect their areas.
“Blacks, Asians, whites – we all live in the same community – why do we have to kill one another?” said Tariq Jahan, whose son was one of three young Muslim men run over by a car and killed while apparently protecting property in the mayhem in Birmingham Tuesday night.
“Step forward if you want to lose your sons, otherwise calm down and go home, please,” he said.
As police investigate that incident and the many other crimes of the last few days, attention is now likely to turn to finding out why the riots and looting erupted and spread and why police were slow to tackle the violence.
Cameron has ordered a rare recall of parliament on Thursday from its summer recess to debate the unrest which flared first in north London after police shot dead an Afro-Caribbean man.
The opposition Labor party, eager for the government to take a less harsh approach to dealing with a record budget deficit, said cuts to police budgets had contributed to the escalation in violence.
“The scale of government cuts is making it harder for the police to do their jobs and keep us safe,” said Yvette Cooper, Labor’s home affairs spokeswoman.
Long-term tensions between police and youth, a dearth of opportunities for children from disadvantaged areas and visible inequalities where the wealthy often live just yards away from run-down city estates have also been highlighted.
Others have sided with Cameron, condemning the groups of youths as thrill-seeking thugs who are indicative of a breakdown in Britain’s social fabric and morals.
Tensions have been bubbling in Britain for some time, with the economy struggling to grow after an 18-month recession, one in five young people out of work and high inflation squeezing incomes and hitting the poor hardest.
Finance minister George Osborne will also address parliament Thursday amid growing concern that the widely publicized scenes of rioting could damage confidence in the economy and in London, one of the world’s biggest financial centers.