The state must stop it's so-called "nannying" of British parents and do away with universal free childcare, a new report has urged.
Families most in need of help are not getting it because Government subsidies are poorly targeted, the Institute of Economic Affairs publication said.
Many families on average earnings are spending more than a third of their net income on childcare, the report claimed, saying too much regulation in the sector has hiked prices.
The report's authors backed ditching free care and the new tax-free childcare, but sticking with Universal Credit, arguing that it is better aimed at unemployed or lower-paid parents.
Attempts to improve the quality of childcare have ended up increasing the amount of regulation, while failing to produce better outcomes, they added.
One study has estimated that keeping parents in work costs £65,000 per job, the report claimed, describing current policy as "costly and inefficient".
The system has also limited choice for parents as alternative forms of care such as home-based childminders are priced out of the sector, it said.
Co-author of the report Len Shackleton, an editorial research fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: "Government interventions in the childcare sector have resulted in both British families and taxpayers bearing a heavy burden of expensive provision.
"Regulation has led to an excessive formalisation of childcare and pre-school, which has not only pushed up costs but paid scant attention to parental preferences. Many families may not want the structured form of pre-school that the Government requires as standard.
"At a time when many families are facing a cost of living crisis, it is important the Government rethinks its involvement in childcare. Rowing back on unnecessary regulation and focusing public funds on those who need it, rather than subsidising the well-off, would be a good way to start."
A Department for Education spokesman said: "Helping families with high quality, affordable childcare is at the heart of this Government's agenda - that's why we are investing a record £6 billion per year by 2020.
"Our 30 hours free offer for three and four-year-olds is set to save working parents up to £5,000 per year and we're also supporting the most disadvantaged families through our free 15 hours offer for two-year-olds and our pupil premium - worth over £300 a year per eligible child. We make no apologies for regulations which keep children safe and well."
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