Severe horizontal inequalities (HIs), or inequalities among groups, are undesirable in themselves and can lead to violent conflict. It is therefore important to reduce them, wherever possible. This paper reviews a range of policies which could contribute to reducing HIs in the political, socio-economic and cultural status dimensions. Relevant policies depend on the context and hence a first requirement is a careful assessment of the nature and causes of HIs in the particular society. Among many considerations to be taken into account, two are especially important. First, if possible, policies should be adopted which reduce rather than increase the salience of identities. Hence, the paper considers a range of indirect policies that are likely to reduce HIs because they are designed to help groups in which deprived groups are numerous, rather than direct policies targeted at the groups themselves. Secondly, policies which correct HIs can be provocative, leading to mobilisation (sometimes violent) by previously privileged groups, so that caution is needed in design and implementation. Examples of success in introducing such policies and sustaining peace - such as in Malaysia and Northern Ireland - show that policies can be effective without provoking a violent reaction. The successful socio-economic cases are shown to have tackled both social and economic inequalities, while success in reducing political HIs requires political inclusivity at many levels of the political system. The paper argues that considerations of HI are frequently ignored in policy-making, and need to become an important part of policy discussions in multicultural societies.
CRISE Working Paper 42, 36 pp.