Green Party conference: Lucas focuses on riot response
Green Party leader Caroline Lucas has said "unrestrained capitalism" created social divisions which were partly to blame for August's riots.
Ms Lucas told her party conference that the government's "repressive crackdown" on those responsible for the disorder would "solve nothing".
Underlying issues such as lack of jobs and wage inequalities must be tackled, activists in Sheffield heard.
Ms Lucas became the party's first elected MP last year.
Her speech is the centrepiece of the opening day of the Green Party of England and Wales' conference, which continues until Saturday.
She used it to criticise the government's reaction to the riots which flared across parts of England last month.
Ms Lucas said her party had been warning for some time that a "greed-based economy" was "eating away at the fabric of our society" and storing up social problems for the future.
While she condemned those involved in violence and looting, saying their actions were a betrayal of the law-abiding majority, she said the government's response would marginalise them further.
"Heavy sentencing, cutting benefits, making people homeless. All panicky and unnecessary responses made against the advice of experts," she said.
"The people who took part in the riots are from our society. They are our neighbours and our work colleagues. We sit next to them on the bus and visit the same shops.
"Casting them into the outer darkness is exactly what you would expect from a ruling cabal who will not accept that the divisions in society are largely of their making."
And she compared those who "grabbed what they could from JJB Sports and TK Maxx" to bankers and traders who took "what they could" from their businesses while politicians stood aside.
The Greens would speak for "those many millions of decent people who are frightened by what they have seen but know instinctively that repression - Cameron's crackdown - will solve nothing".
'Lib Dem despair'
Urging the government to reverse its austerity measures, she said that "worse is yet to come" on spending cuts. She called instead for a "positive vision" of public investment to create employment and support sustainable development.
The Brighton Pavilion MP also attacked the government's health and school reforms and appealed to Liberal Democrat activists disaffected by their role in the coalition to join her party.
"This is not a true coalition," she said.
"This is a Tory government being kept in power by the Lib Dems. I have a special message for those Lib Dem supporters who are beginning to despair of the path their leadership has taken them down.
"If you became involved in politics to serve your local community, to protect the environment or to challenge inequality, then join us."
The BBC's Mike Sergeant said the Greens were in confident mood, having done well in May's local government elections and become the largest party on Brighton and Hove Council.
But he said the party remained on the fringes of national politics and was looking for ways to broaden its appeal beyond the environmental issues with which it is traditionally associated.