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Why was the practice needed?

In February 2004, the Federal Government set up the Commission for Intercultural Dialogue to take stock of issues related to equality, non-discrimination and multiculturalism in Belgium. The Commission recommended the collection and compilation of ‘cultural statistics’, meaning data on people with a foreign citizenship or background. This should be carried out by scientific bodies (academic and other), independent of political, administrative and judicial powers.

The main challenge when trying to implement these recommendations was to find a feasible methodology that would reconcile differing perspectives regarding the collection of sensitive personal data. It also had to meet legal privacy requirements and comply with strict rules on the processing of personal data.

The solution was to avoid the debate on ‘ethnic statistics’ by using the two variables: ‘origin’ (which is traced back to nationality of the father and mother at birth) and ‘migration history’ (which is traced back to the third generation). Such data were non-controversial as they are already collected by Social Security and National Register data banks. These were linked to data from the Labour Market and Social Protection Data Warehouse, which aggregates socio-economic data from Belgian social security institutions.

On the basis of these data, the Federal Public Service Employment, in cooperation with the Belgian equality body, Unia, produced the Socio Economic Monitoring report. Its main objective was to observe developments in the labour market and working conditions as experienced by people on the basis of their country of origin and migration background (first, second or third generations). These observations make it possible to evaluate the extent of disadvantages and the inequalities faced by such groups. It also allowed appropriate responses to be formulated.

The report allows for an intersectional analysis of the target populations, as data on people of foreign origin or with a migration background are disaggregated by age, region, level of education, gender and other labour market-related variables.

How was it implemented?

The first phase of the project consisted of incorporating national registry data relating to the citizenship and country of birth of individuals, as well as their parents and grand-parents, into the Labour Market and Social Protection Data Warehouse. This warehouse is managed by the Crossroads Bank of Social Security.

In the second phase, two variables were defined to operationalise the data gathered, namely ‘origin’ and ‘migration history’.

The interlinked databases include:

  • The National Register: It records, stores and communicates data relating to the identification of natural people i.e. citizens. As it was set up in 1983, it does not include everyone with a migrant background.
  • Crossroads Bank for Social Security: Each social security institution is responsible for recording and maintaining the information contained in its database. Crossroads Bank has developed an electronic network linking the various social security institutions. Within the network, the Crossroads Bank acts as a driving force on data sharing on social security and employers.
  • Labour Market and Social Protection Data Warehouse: This is managed by the Crossroads Bank for Social Security. It aims to aggregate socio-economic data from national social security institutions to respond more accurately, faster and cheaper to data requests from research institutes and authorities.

The report drawn up on the basis of these data includes the entire population aged between 18 and 64 years in Belgium. Data collected on country of origin and migration history are further broken down by gender, age, region, level of education and other labour market-related variables.

The report featuring these data is published every two years, thereby ensuring that data is collected systematically and regularly.

New data categories are added over time.

The first two reports, published in 2013 and 2015, discussed the ‘origin’ and ‘migration history ’variables.

The 2017 edition introduced an additional variable, ‘education’ (set to low, medium or high level). It also analysed further aspects, such as the evolution of the employment situation between 2008 and 2014, the variable of origin in the specific context of the public sector, the itinerary of young people in vocational training and a ‘purpose of stay’ variable.

Outputs

  • Biennial reports describing how the research was carried out in each round. They also discuss newly-added data variables, where relevant. They further present the research findings and analysis, and recommend courses of action to policymakers.
  • Comprehensive datasets on which the reports are based are published online as well.

Key success factors

  • Certain strategic choices related to the project. Examples include; involving all concerned actors; progressing step-by-step on the basis of consensus and with a clear roadmap; and using existing databases instead of building from scratch.
  • Other factors that contributed to the success of the monitoring were:
    • the exhaustiveness of the data
    • the objectivity of variables
    • the quality of the analysis
    • the gradual improvement of the basic data source (i.e. Data Warehouse) through monitoring, which allowed for further analyses
    • the credibility of the two institutions involved in the report

Technical information

  • Data sources covered: Census; Administrative data.
  • Areas of life covered: Employment; Education.
  • Target audience: Public administrations and equality bodies
  • Duration: 2013 – present (biennial)
  • Geographical scope: National
  • Leading institution: Federal Public Service for Employment, Work and Social Dialogue/ Unia (national equality body)
  • Other organisations involved/consulted: Crossroads Bank for Social Security and Data Warehouse Labour Market and Social Protection
  • Financial & human resources: Budget: €2,000 for access to the databases, as well as laying out and printing the report; Source of the budget: national budget; Staff: 3 Full Time Equivalent (FTE)

Contacts

Federal Public Service Employment, Work and Social Dialogue / Service Public Fédéral Emploi, Travail et Concertation Sociale

Email: emt (at) emploi (dot) belgique (dot) be

Unia

Email: info (at) unia (dot) be