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December 2017 - Strong growth of self-employed people in the Brussels Region

Brussels Institute for Statistics and Analysis (BISA) - In the spotlight - Annual increase in the number of self-employed by region

Speaking in percentage terms, the increase in self-employed workers in Brussels has been far more dramatic in recent years than in the other regions. In absolute numbers, growth has been the strongest in the sectors of corporate services and construction. This trend can be explained by the increase in the number of company directors and in the number of self-employed people from the new European Union Member States working in the construction sector.
 

Annual increase in the number of self-employed by region (2010-2015)

Source: National Accounts Institute


More growth in Brussels than in the other two regions

For the past 10 years, the annual increase in the number of self-employed people in the Brussels-Capital Region has been higher than in the other regions. In 2015, the number of self-employed workers rose by 3.3 % in Brussels against 1.5 % in the Flemish Region and 0.9 % in the Walloon Region. From 2009 to 2015, the number of people in self-employment rose by a year-on-year average of 2.5 % (which corresponds to 10,966 extra self-employed people in 6 years, out of a total of 78,217 in 2015) compared to 0.8 % in the Flemish Region and 1.0 % in the Walloon Region.

As a result, the proportion of self-employed people within the total Brussels-Capital Region workforce increases slightly each year. This proportion yet remains much lower than in the other regions, which is not illogical given the high number of employees in the capital. Over the 2009-2015 period, the proportion of self-employed workers within the total Brussels workforce rose by 1.3 percentage point[1] (pp) to 11.3 % in 2015 (against +0.2 pp to 17.4 % in the Flemish Region and +0.5 pp to 18.1 % in the Walloon Region).


Significant growth in the construction and business services sectors

The manner in which the number of people in self-employment changed across the various sectors has been extremely diverse. The sectors on the rise are the construction sector (+3,048 persons) and the sector entitled "Legal and accounting activities; Activities of head offices; Management consultancy activities" (+6,684 persons). Within this sector, the rise is largely due to "Management consultancy activities".

To a lesser extent, "Security and investigation activities"; "Services to buildings and landscape activities"; "Office administrative, office support and other business support activities" (+626 persons) and "Human health activities" (+595 persons) also make a clear positive contribution to that growth.

Although the general trend for 2009-2015 is positive, a number of sectors in the Brussels-Capital Region experienced the opposite. The decrease is especially striking in the following sectors:

  • "Retail trade, except of motor vehicles and motorcycle" (-643 persons);
  • "Accommodation and food service activities" (-353 persons).


How to explain this growth?

The growth is explained by the increase in the number of company directors and in the number of nationals from the new EU Member States working in the construction sector.

In fact, the self-employed in the "Management consultancy activities" are actually essentially company directors. They are considered as self-employed persons who provide business services to the companies they hold a directorship in. It concerns persons who sit on the board of a company without being registered as an employee of that company. They may do so as their main activity or simply stay on after they have retired.

The increase in the construction sector can be explained by the influx of nationals from the new European Member States, more specifically Bulgarians and Romanians, who, because of the legal restriction on the free movement of workers, opted for self-employment. However, since 1 January 2014, these restrictions have been lifted. Figures from the NISSE[2], which are used as a source for the Regional Accounts,  clearly show that the number of self-employed Bulgarians decreased after that date but that the number of self-employed Romanians continued to grow.
 

Methodology

These self-employment figures come from the Regional Accounts, produced by the National Accounts Institute. The Regional Accounts are compiled in accordance with the definitions of the European System of National and Regional Accounts (ESA).

The ESA defines a self-employed person as “any person who is employed in an unincorporated enterprise, not qualified as a quasi-corporate enterprise, whether as owner or co-owner. In other words, this also includes any unpaid family workers, homeworkers whose income depends on the value of the output of the production process they are responsible for and workers who only produce for their own consumption or investments." (ESA 2010, § 11.15 and 11.16).

 

 More information

Are you interested in taking a closer look at the regional accounts’ figures on the number of self-employed workers? Then check out the "Domestic employment" tables under the theme "Labour market" on our website.


[1] A percentage point (pp) is a unit used to denote the absolute difference between two figures expressed as a percentage. Between a growth rate of 2.7% for one year and a rate of 3.3% for another year, the difference is 0.6 percentage points.

[2] National Institute for the Social Security of the Self-employed.